Color Lines, the ferry company, operate two services between Larvik, in Norway and Hirtshals in Denmark. Larvik is located 132 kms away from Oslo. The Larvik-Hirtshals route is a important freight corridor between the Norwegian Capital City and Jutland of Denmark. In a lighter vein, Shaiju had mentioned that the Norwegians and Swedes shop in Denmark, the Danes in Germany and the Germans in Poland! The Larvik-Hirtshals route is also frequented by the sun seeking and outdoor loving Norwegians.
We left before 5.30 am from the Scandic Solli Hotel to meet the deadline to report at the ferry terminal one hour before the ferry crossing at 8 am. Prior to leaving the city, the driving test in the garage was extreme. It mustered all my skills and patience and the directorial passion of Lal to exit the hotel garage through the narrow passage. The route out of the city was fairly uncomplicated and in fine weather set course for Larvik. While nearing Larvik some areas had low hanging, but thin, mist. We reached Larvik before 7 am and joined the queue for boarding after obtaining the passes at the drive-through gate. The checked in cars and freight vehicles were asked to join one of the twelve lanes that were organised on the basis of vehicle type and size. Thus, there were different queues for freight trailers, another for cars with trailers, and so on. By 7.30 am a lady got into a forklift and expertly removed the barriers between the vehicles and the ferry. Thereafter, she guided the vehicles to the various decks on the ferry. The boarding was done in less than 15 minutes. This has to be seen in the perspective of the fact that the ferry, SuperSpeed 2 can carry 1900 passengers and 764 passenger cars, and the ferry was full! It is a powerful modern catamaran built for year around operations.
I parked the car and moved to the passenger deck of the ferry, which has many restaurants, cafes and tax free shops, letting you into the secret that Norway is not part of the European Union! We had chosen the economy lounge rather than the Business Class for the crossing. The lounges are equipped with chairs, TV screens and entertainment like Casino, pinball machines and a children’s play area. I was told that Internet has to be paid for if you are in Economy; the lady at the counter told me that the connection is not worth the price! We found a table with a porthole view and had breakfast of ham and cheese sandwich with coffee. The remaining NOK was, thus, best used. I had another NOK 43 on me after paying for breakfast and I discovered a ‘Coffee Deal’ which tagged a big bar of Milk Chocolate with a cup of coffee. I marked it for sometime into the journey.
The crossing time of the ferry is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Intent of sleeping the better part of the crossing I did not take the computer to the passenger deck. After breakfast I roamed the ferry to appreciate the facilities in them and on the open deck to catch the Sun and views of the blue-green water. Despite many attempts to sleep I could not do so. Then I went down the decks to try and retrieve the computer from the car. I found all the hatches closed and was told that they would open only 10 minutes before the landing in Hirtshals. I was condemned to aimlessness for the next two hours and more. I then spent time on the open deck watching a lady throwing up, young couples expressing affection, and maybe even pledging eternal love, young boys using the deck to expend their energies and girls posing for photographs. The most poignant sight was that of an old couple, the lady had some difficulty walking, sitting together and holding each other’s hands through their rest of the deck. They did not exchange a word in the hour that I observed them. To me it looked as if they were silently evaluating the challenges they had met together and readying themselves for those ahead.
Before noon we got off the ferry and got on to the highway for Aarhus, which was more than 180 kms away. 50 kms short of Aarhus I stopped at a wayside restaurant for lunch. While waiting to decide what to have a kind gentleman offered his service to place the order, which consisted of chicken fillet and potato fritters. What we revelled in there was the availability of free WiFi! The Navigator expertly guided us to the Hotel Zleep in Aarhus, which had free parking; the young receptionist gave me a free parking ticket to be displayed on the window of the car. After a while of documentation in the room a sleep hurricane overcame my resolve to complete the blog post of the previous day.
When we woke up it was past 6.30 pm but it was still bright outside. The reception desk told us that the City Centre would, perhaps, be the best place to experience in the short time that we had. We took a long walk that helped us appreciate the buildings, some of them nearly 125 years old, the architecture and the busy railway station. Closer to the City Hall we got into a pub to enjoy some local beer. Sigurd, the bartender, helped us choose the Pilsner ahead of the rest of the draughts. The pub had many old photos of the railway sation and steam engines. Into the second drink I asked Sigurd to suggest a restaurant in the vicinity that would help us flavour local cuisine. He and his friend, Michael, suggested the Raadhuus Kafeens near the City Hall. Sigurd even suggested the menu and warned that it may not be light on the pocket. Both Sigurd and Michael wished us well for the rest of the journey once we had settled the bar bill.
It was not difficult getting to the suggested diner, which we reached after stopping on the way to appreciate sculptures and the Music School. We met Gert Hauge, the owner, at the entrance of the restaurant. When I told him that we have come there highly recommended he asked, mockingly of course, “Which fool did that?” I replied that it was a sober bartender who had perhaps made the mistake! The order was taken by Dorthe Jensen, Gert’s daughter, who was also the Chef of the restaurant. When I asked if Sigurd’s suggestion was okay she responded positively. So, it was to be the house favourite of Raadhuus Gryde, a pork and beef dish with mashed potatoes and Stegt Flesk, fried bacon with potatoes and sauce. We were having a Carlsberg when the mountainous portions of the order arrived. Dorthe placed it with a lot of care on the table and explained the dishes and how to savour them. The bacon dish was extremely salty and the sauce was meant to temper it. We struggled through the two dishes but did justice to them the pork and sausage dish was yummy. For dessert Dorthe suggested a pancake with chocolate filling with ice cream and strawberry sauce. Heavenly, is the word for the dessert; sinful, could be another! Dorthe took our photos to put them on their FB page and called us a taxi to return to the hotel.
Zied from Tunisia was the taxi driver. He has been living in Denmark for over 20 years and is married to a local. He shared his experiences with us and almost stopped the car when we told him that we have driven to Aarhus all the way from Cochin. Even though the ride was a short one we enjoyed each other’s company and exchanged information to stay in touch, Experiences such as these enhance the quality of the journey and make me believe that every journey is a means to meet fellow souls that travel with you through time and space. Else, how can one explain the meetings with Sigurd and Michael, Gert and Dorthe and Zied? The experiences were not all over. When we got to the hotel reception the two girls who we had met prior to leaving for the walk were still there. We shared our experiences with them when one of them asked if Indian and Nepalese are alike in customs and traditions. It transpired that she was dating a Nepali and was getting ready to go to Nepal to meet his parents. Lal suggested that she could win their hearts if she touched their feet and sought their blessings when she first met the elders. She was already well versed with the Namasthe!