August 15 is special to every Indian as the country celebrates its Independence Day. It is special to me in another manner too, with respect to this journey. It was the Independence Day celebrations in 1997 that had sparked my interest in travelling to London by road. I had detailed that in the first part of this series of posts. Thus, after 17 years of dreaming, planning and executing I am close to the fructification of the epic project. Along the way I have received many a helping hand from the most unexpected quarters, made friends in countries that I had never expected to travel to, debated issues of national and international issues across borders, enjoyed the food and culture of lands unfamiliar to me in the past, been motivated and egged on by well-wishers and friends, criticised by the Press and Media and courted controversy and abuse. But, most importantly, I have enjoyed every bit of the 2 month journey, through 22 countries in 2 Continents and 21000 kms. Every day of the journey I have realised that I am doing what few only dream of doing. My hands are folded in gratitude and my knees bent in supplication.
Murugan had agreed to be in the hotel by 10 am with his son to complete the rest of the sightseeing. However, he turned up close to noon, which gave me time to complete the blog posts and upload them on the site. I became current with the blogs, documentation and the expense account statement. An interesting piece of data that emerged is that nearly 2625 litres of fuel has been consumed to cover 21000 kms – an average of 8 kmpl; this is quite an improvement from the 6 kmpl I used to get in Cochin!
I got Shaiju, Murugan and his son, Manu, together and requested them to come with us to the garage, where the car was parked. After Murugan and Manu converted the red dot against Norway on one side Shaiju did it on the other. I keep telling people who affix the sticker that in case any portion of the red is visible after the green sticker is stuck they have to pay for the fuel upto the next country! So far none of them has obliged me. Both of them also signed the campaign poster and helped attest the log sheets. Then Shaiju let us in on a well kept secret. The Scandic Solli hotel has underground rooms and tunnels belonging to WWII era. Shaiju told us that German officers in civvies checked into the hotel one night and came down in their uniforms the next day and took command of the hotel. Thereafter they built radio room, torture chambers, confinement rooms and tunnels that extended underground to the Aker Byrgge. It was eerie walking around the confinedhaiju told us that many locals do not know about the existence of the spaces and tunnels and it is only the King who has access to the area. Thanks, Shaiju, for the privileged visit.
Shaiju had done online booking of the ferry from Larvik to Hirtshals for the 16th. He was able to get us the best rate possible by giving exact measurement of the car and getting the rate reduced from NOK 1249 to NOK 1049. On my enquiry he suggested that I go the Post Office to exchange currency. On the way to the Vigeland Park Murugan took me to the ‘Postaan’. The kindly lady told me to go to the DNB bank in case I wanted a reduced commission charge! The bank was close by. I waited my turn and another elderly lady exchanged USD for NOK at the day’s rate of 5.9445 with a commission of NOK 50 for the transaction. Next we went to a cornet shop and bought two day passes for travel in the city. Each pass cost NOK 90, which was steep even by Europe standards. Using a combination of bus, tram and the Metro we got to the Veigland Park. At the edge of the entrance is a huge area with many tennis courts. Coaching and competitive matches were going on. I was told that the infrastructure is built by the state machinery but the corporate partners chip in to maintain them through sponsorship.
The Vigeland Park is the largest sculpture Park in the world made by a single artist spread out over 80 acres. The Park contains 212 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron by Gustav Vigeland. He was also in charge of the design and layout of the Park. Most of the works of Vigeland are placed in five units along a 850 meter axis, which are the Main Gate, The Bridge, The Fountain, The Monolith Plateau and the Wheel of Life. The Bridge contains over 50 sculptures displaying relationships between man and woman and between adults and children. The Angry Boy is the most famous among the sculptures on the Bridge. The fountain and the monolith have human forms in various states of action and emotional stages.
After a luxurious walk in the Park it was time to get back closer to the Hotel. We took the Metro and tram and returned to the Nobel Institute where we sauntered around in the area areas that had free access, including the souvenir shop. After that we walked across to the place where the Mela festival was on to grab some lunch. Food from Morocco, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Greece, Thailand, etc was available. We sampled some Pakistani and Iranian food. It was passable. Later we had some delightful kulfis and returned to the Hotel for some rest.
Late in the evening, once Shaiju got free from work, we went with him, his colleague at work, Victor, Murugan and Seby, from Chalkudy, to the Holmenkollen, which boasts of the steepest ski jump in the world and has spectator capacity for 30000. The magnificent venue has hosted the winter Olympics in 1952 and many ski championships over the years. The view of Oslo from the hill is fantastic. Later I went with Shaiju and Victor to a bar near the Hotel, where I started with an Akvavit shot. Akvavit is a flavoured spirit of herbs and spices. Over a couple of beers I had one of the finest conversations I have had during the journey learning more and more about Norwegian and Swedish life and culture. I have to thank Shaiju and Victor for the interesting conversation and the informative discussions. I was told why the Norwegian Parliament is called Storting – Viking for ‘big gathering’; why it was Yule for the Vikings and not Christmas, and many such. Victor told me that there were Swedish politicians campaigning in Oslo for the impending elections in Sweden – Swedes in Oslo number over 60,000! With that the stay in another country came to a close. But the sojourn was replete with friends like Shaiju, Murugan, Seby and Victor.