Hotel Kusten offered something that was not there in any of the hotels we had stayed in during the journey. It had a reception area with plenty of seating that was open 24 hours. It also had coffee and water stocked for those wanted them. I gravitated to the reception area at 3 am to write the blog posts of the past two days. It was peaceful without any disturbance at that time of the morning and the hot cup of coffee helped start the thinking and writing process. It took me more than three hours to finish the documentation. However, I was unable to upload the posts to the site since the WiFi was down. All the hard work done and the last mile connectivity gone!
We had planned to leave by 8 am and hence, were down for the breakfast buffet a half hour before that. I took a bowl of muesli and looked around for cold milk. I found a carton that seemed to contain milk; I found out it was yogurt when I poured it into the bowl. I wondered if it was the start of a curdled day for the forecast was for rain and more rain! Soon I located the right carton and the rest of the meal was done in quick time. At the reception I completed the check out and sought directions from the receptionist. It sounded fairly simple and I trusted the Navigator to second the suggestion. The garage had a simple door opening device. At the exit door hung a chain that had to be given a light tug to lift the garage door. That done, I turned right and right again and found the sign which said Oslo, just as the receptionist had said. The Navigator too, after finding the GPS on exit from the garage, seconded the route I was on!
I encountered heavy rain en route on E6 to Oslo; the dark clouds on the horizon refused to blow away. Lal and I resigned ourselves to being confined indoors in Oslo. The rains were intermittent but heavy. Even when the sky was blue rain would suddenly come down in buckets. It was about 170 kms to the border with Norway, which was covered in about 2 hours. Fuelling at the last post in Sweden cost us about Euro 2 per litre, the costliest fuelling done in the journey thus far. As we entered the territory of Norway we were diverted to the Customs station. We could see that some officials were making a few checks on the vehicles ahead of us, including opening the boot of the car. I was sure that we would be detained for thorough inspection since it had a non-EU registration. We were waived down for a lady officer to inspect. She was taken aback initially by the right hand drive. Then she came around to my side and asked why we were there. I gave her a synopsis of the journey when she asked me to take the breathalyser test. It was different from what I was used to in Kerala. I had to blow hard into a small tube that was attached to a handheld equipment. The lady officer showed me the result – 0.00. I told her that we didn’t have enough money to buy liquor for all of it was spent buying fuel for the car! She laughed and wished us well for the rest of the journey. We were in the 22nd country with 5 more to go.
It was plain vanilla landscape all through to Oslo with rains appearing now and then. The hotel reservation in Oslo had been done courtesy a friend in Bangalore. I was not sure of the street name where the hotel was located. Calls to the hotel went into an electronic machine that spoke a foreign tongue. Quite close to the entry to the Oslo City Centrum I parked the car with hazard lights on and tried to get the Navigator to recognise the address. After many tries I succeeded. The fact of the matter is that I had not understood the address correctly, in the first place! After that it was smooth sailing all the way to the hotel. Many narrow lanes and streets later I was parked in front of the Scandic Hotel on Parkveien Road.
I asked Lal to be in the car and went to the hotel reception to confirm the reservation and parking for the car. What happened thereafter was straight from some yet to be done movie script. A smart young man stepped forward to take my queries and I took him to be from Sri Lanka. He confirmed the room reservation and said that the hotel garage parking would cost NOK 225 per day, which he also said would be the best deal in town. I told him that we were in town from India and in a while unearthed our common roots in Kerala. And it turned out that he was a huge fan of Lal Jose! Shaiju, the Front Office Assistant Manager, not only waived the garage fee but also upgraded the room status to make us more comfortable. He did comment that I looked fresh despite the 21000 kms we had travelled in 2 months from Kerala! Later he sent a bottle of Champagne in a bucket of ice with two flute glasses as a mark of his respect for the inimitable film maker from his homeland.
We decided to keep the Champagne for the evening after the day’s walking had been done. Shaiju suggested the Olivia restaurant at the Aker Byrgge waterfront, which was just a short walk from the hotel. The Aker Byrgge is part of the Oslofjord. Fjords are almost always identified with Norway. A fjord is a long and narrow inlet from the sea between slopes of mountainous coasts. They occur when ater from the sea flow into valleys formed by glacial action near the coast. The Oslofjord links the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. the views from the Aker Byrgge were glorious in the noon sun – the rain had ceased and it was pleasant walking around the water mouths. We wlaked to the Olivia restaurant and waited for a while to be seated. Lal was in a mood to have something ‘fishy’ and the waitress at the Olivia told us that they did not have any dishes with fish. So we moved on and found that most of the waterfront restaurants were priced so heavily that a bottle of water would cost more than a litre of fuel! Then we chanced on the Rorbua restaurant and ordered a fish and chicken dish, the former for Lal. I walked around for a while when the order was being done and discovered many sculptures and stone carvings near the restaurant. It was an excellent place to explore. When the dishes arrived we thought that we were condemned to a full day there. The portions were more than what two people could eat. Lal’s plate overflowed with shrimps and I had three huge pieces of chicken stuck into two sandwiches! Moreover, there were leaves and greens to get through too. We shared each other’s order and with some extra effort we managed to finish most of it. We walked around the waterfront a bit to work some of the calories off. Then it was sleep and rest for a while till the contact provided by Shaiju arrived to conduct us around the city in the evening.
Murugan had checked the weather forecast before he arrived after 5 pm in the hotel. He said that the rest of the day would be fine and better weather was forecast for the next day. That was good news. Murugan had come to Oslo 8 years ago with his Norwegian wife, who he met and married in Varkala, Kerala. His wife had worked for three years in the International School in Trivandrum before they moved to Oslo. They have a 7 year old son, Manu, who will go into Class2 when school reopens. The different manner of bringing up children in Norway was brought rather dramatically with the arrest and incarceration of the Indian couple in Oslo. Murugan took us on a long and interesting walk of the city. We first went to the Norwegian Nobel Institute near the Aker Byrgge. The administration of the Nobel Foundation was from this building. It was built to as a residence but by the turn of the 20th century became home of the Nobel Institute. The place was closed for the day. We decided to come back for a visit again the next day. The City Hall is a large red brick building near the Oslo harbour. It was built in 1950 to commemorate the 950th anniversary of the city’s founding. In front of the City Hall is a large recreation centre that was getting decked up for the ‘Mela Festival’ that was organised by immigrant Pakistanis. A lot of Asian food, handicrafts and music were up to be appreciated. Murugan gave me to understand that Pakistanis are the single largest immigrant community in Norway. Sri Lankans too, there are in plenty. Norway, in the recent years, has also been experiencing immigration of Swedes in search of jobs.
We walked through many quays, some of which had old military ships and wooden ships anchored as museums. The Oslo cruise terminal and the customs offices were also at the quay we walked by. The walk took us by the side of the Akershus Castle that had been built in the medieval times to protect Oslo. The fortification was also used as a prison. It now has three major functions, namely, state representation, public activities and housing the headquarters of the Armed Forces. It is open to the public during the day. I visited the Stena Lines terminal to find out if they had a service that could link me to Aarhus. They didn’t and I was also put off by a service agent looking me up and down and saying, “It costs a lot, you know”.
After that all that I had eyes for was the Opera House. It dominates the Oslofjord. The massive modern building has more than 1100 rooms, spread over 400,000 square feet, and is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. The building has a roof that gently slopes up and invites visitors to take the walk up to see commanding views of the city and the harbour. The fully white granite surface has been so done as to be slip resistant. The reception of the Opera House, which can be visited without ticket, is jaw dropping. The aesthetics cannot be described. Even the toilets have been done such that I did not want to move out of it in a hurry. The pot is a square cascade of gently flowing water. The tile tones and lighting provide serenity in case the visit is an emergency!
The National Theatre is one of the most prominent venues in Norway for performing arts. The statues of famous theatre personalities and playwrights greet you at the entrance to the theatre, which came into existence in 1899. Ibsen’s plays have found full expression at the National Theatre. The Parliament building of Norway is in central Oslo. The majestic structure has been in use as the legislature complex since 1866. To the left of the yellow brick building is the Grand Hotel, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner is hosted annually. The hotel is where the famous playwright used to dine frequently and Roald Dahl wrote his autobiographical work. As I was walking down to the Palace I came across two lady police persons on horseback. Murugan told me that they would pose for photographs if requested. They did that without any hesitation when I approached them. Right down the promenade and where it ends is the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Norwegian Monarch. The massive Palace reportedly has 170 plus rooms.
I had arranged with Shaiju to book online for the ferry from Larvik to Hirtshals on the 16th for the crossing to Denmark. He got it done for the best rate possible. When we got back to the hotel Lal and I spent little time in polishing off the Champagne. Later we went down to the restaurant and had a lovely dinner of chicken and fish. The bread served with garlic butter and chopped olives were so delightful that we asked for a second helping of it. It was such a coincidence to find out from the waitress that her live in was a Keralite; she did not from where in Kerala, though.
We decided to sleep late, for the programme for the morrow was set for 10 am. It was also the intention to go to the Indian Embassy, if possible, to attend the Independence Day flag hoisting ceremony. 60 days had gone by with travel to 22 countries over 21000 kms. The end of the journey was almost visible.