Norway is expensive, much to my dismay. Food and drink cost thrice to four times as much as I am used to. Yet I had the most extraordinary encounter in Café Asylet on my last night in Oslo. The original intention to try at least a meagre portion of Norwegian food had finally won out, and thus determinedly made my way to Asylet that wasn’t far from the Oslo lodging. I ended up asking someone busy wrapping knives and forks in serviettes for his translation of the menu, inwardly cringing at the prices, and ordered something decent and least expensive, which also happened to be the Café’s special. Turned out that the person I had been talking to was actually the owner of the place (who started winking numerously at me the moment I pleased him by ordering the Café’s special), and put thing after thing on my table, and placed the entire tab all on the house at the end.
I’d like to think God’s hand was big in this.
At the end of it all, he said something sharply memorable (or at least that’s how I remember him saying it): His mother had taught him to receive people with an open hand, and he would like to reciprocate the favour with people who had been hospitable to him when he travelled.
It is not this moral lesson that’s naturally marvellous to internalise but rather, the stark difference in the “human kindness meter” I’ve found here. The humanity barometer that resides in everyone is the same internal meter I find myself resetting each vacation; more unsettling lies the implication that something had gone awry in the span of a mere 6 months.
The last few bits of Oslo were surprisingly pleasant, upon learning that real nature lies at the end of the Tunnelbana (Metro). So I went crazy and took 2 separate lines to see the sloping hills of Oslo. The result? The line to Sognsvann resulted in a trudge around a lake in an awestruck stupor and the line to Frognerseteren, while more scenic, led to a gargantuan flash of panic when I got lost in the woods toward nightfall after trying to walk downhill through a forest to another train station. (Am I infinitely glad my parents don’t know this – well, at least not yet – they can’t claim insurance anyway.)
The 5-hour journey from Oslo to Myrdal contained nary a dull moment apart from photogenic Norway. Met yet another Japanese woman who travels without her husband (and doesn’t mind because he pays for it), eagerly showing me a boiled egg she stole from the hotel’s breakfast table.
I think the general consensus is that the Oslo-Bergen stretch is obscenely scenic, and should near be made illegal. The train cut an amazing path through gently sloping alpine forests and hamlets scattered in central Norway. Progressing westwards brings a gradual, gradual ascent (1 km above sea level) into the Hardanger Plateau (Hardangervidda), a startling alien landscape in which rock, ice, melting snow and lakes mingle. My suspicion is that the seasons have in some manner shifted out of kilter, leaving the transition from spring to summer later than usual, explaining thus the presence of so much ice still – not that it’s any cause for complaint.
I think I might sell my soul (or maybe something lesser) to do this journey through the Plateau again.
The Flamsbana (the one-hour descent into the Flamsvalley) was disappointing compared to it. In any case, Flam is considered the gateway to Sognefjord, but I broke the journey here to stay in the hostel for a night. Flam Vandrehjem as it’s called, has a zealously friendly woman at reception, and collectively houses the hostel rooms and the camping site.
The feel of a hippie-community is produced by the smattering of small huts (hostel rooms) and the clusters of caravans and cars. Which might also explain the damned showers: Nkr 10 for a 5-minute warm spray. Exceed the 5-minute time limit and find yourself sprayed with ice-cold water courtesy of the mountains, which did wonders to keep me awake past my bed time.