Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday 30 June Oslo to Balestrand

The NSB is shut down north of Oslo for the entire summer.  We had to take a bus to Honefoss which is about an hour out of Oslo. In this organized chaos it took 8 buses to bring everybody for the train. It was a good job it wasn't raining because a lot wouldn't have had cover.
Our locomotive was a gorgeous red - similar to the Thalys trains in France, Netherlands etc.
 We had seats in the nursery car. This has an area for kids where they can climb around and crawl through tunnels. This is great but I wonder about kids falling down.

Much coniferous forest but there is some grain farming and fruit trees. There were several tunnels on the road and the railway had a lot as well.  The train ran very smoothly with continuous rails and well maintained running gear.  Plenty of room in the cars even though practically every seat was taken.

As we climbed higher there were isolated patches of snow.  The trees were smaller. Saw a gas station with grass growing on the roof. At Finse we reached the highest station on the line - 1222 metres.
Myrdal was cold and bleak with patches of snow and much bare rock. We changed here from NSB to the Flam Railway, reputed to be the steepest standard gauge line in the world.   It uses an electric locomotive at each end.
The train is painted a nasty dark green which gives it military feel.
There were lots of tourists milling around when the train came in so there was a fair amount of juggling for position. Some had to stand although there was probably space at the end of the train. The line is quite spectacular with many views of waterfalls and valleys although not as spectacular as the guidebooks would have one believe.  There is a good commentary in three languages on flat screen tvs set throughout the train.  Murdal was cold and wet.  Flam was warm and wet.

Flam was overpowered by a hideous large cruise ship.  One day last week there were two such monsters docked.  One hates to thing what damage they bring along with the tourist revenue. 

We quickly found the ferry to Balestrand and there was time for a coffee and quick visit to the Flam Railway museum. The ferry was very smooth and had good comfortable seats.  The views along the fjord were great and each waterfall seemed better than the last.
We had a beer to celebrate a successful journey by bus, train, train and ferry.
 A large number of people went ashore at Balestrand and many went for the green Volvo which carried our bags to the hotel. Our room is delightful with a wonderful view across the fjord. It is very quiet and sounds carry a long way.
The view from our room
Balestrand is very small and we can have a lazy day tomorrow.

We went into the largest hotel in town, the Kviknes, to make a reservation for the smorgasbord, dinner tomorrow.  It is reputed to be the largest wooden building in Scandinavia.  Unfortunately they have built a block of barracks and cater to the tour buses.  We saw five tour buses there and are glad we were unable to make a reservation because they were full one day.  The Balestrand Hotell, where we are staying, is small, quiet and we have a wonderful balcony.

Dinner was at one of the two restaurants in town.
Troll soup - mostly mushroom - they go into the woods but trolls are hard to find this time of year.
Grandmother's Norwegian meat balls/Elk Burger and Reindeer sausage.
The fellow working there had a Lancashire accent.  He agreed that he had been to the University of Icky Thump but was actually born in Sierra Leone.

We went to sleep with the curtains open for the view over the fjord.
Click below to see pictures of the Flam Railway

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday 29 June - Oslo in the rain

The forecast was for rain all day getting heavier in the afternoon.  This was why we crammed so much into yesterday when it was sunny.
In the station square - the lions tail makes a good seat.
We went first to the botanical gardens to see what we could before the weather closed in.  The cloudy conditions meant that the colours of some of the flowers really stood out.

The Munch Museum was close by so we ducked in there.
This is one of Munch's most well known paintings.  The scream.
We took the T bane (subway) back into town and decided to split up.  Mary enjoyed the National Gallery which was well laid out, while I rode some trams.  The operation is very laid back and my return into the station was suddenly diverted so I had to walk three or four blocks in the rain.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday June 28 - Oslo

I tried some Norwegian brown cheese at breakfast this morning.  The milk is boiled until the sugar caramelizes.  It tastes like salty fudge.  Evidently an acquired taste.

Oslo is one of the most screwed up cities I have come across in Europe.  The transit system is in a state of chaos because of road closures, the various maps available conflict with each other, there is no information available - even in Norwegian.  Even the transit Gestapo, who go around in platoons of six, do not know what is happening.  I pointed out that the tram stop was barricaded off and they just smiled and said "Sorry, I don't know".  The only city that is worse is London - and even London Transport plans your travel chaos.  On top of this, there is extensive construction, reconstruction and renovation going on.  The royal palace is half covered in plastic and the national gallery is completely covered although they have painted a nice picture of what the entrance looks like.  We have to take a bus for the first part of our journey on Saturday and the Airport Express train has been replaced by a bus.  If I had realized the place was so badly f----d up I most certainly wouldn't have come.

There is a very strong police and security presence here.  We have seen more police in one day than we have seen in the rest of our time in Scandinavia.

We took a bus down to the ferry terminal (should have been a tram) to look around.  It is an upscale, trendy area now - many warehouses converted to shops and restaurants.  City hall, is a large brutish, brick building - it is better from the inside by all accounts.  We took a tram to Frognor Park to admire the many statues by Gustav Vigeland.  Each one is nude, each one is different and many are amusing - the unhappy child that is crying, the man trying to get rid of an infestation of babies.
The unhappy child

An infestation of babies

The expression on the man's face is thought provoking
 A short tram ride took us to Majorstuen where we found a high class cheese shop called Fromagerie.  There were many French cheeses, including Pyreneean sheep cheese.  The number 12 tram morphes into the 19 tram here and it took us back into town.  We got off at the National Theatre but were disappointed to find the Royal Palace was only partially visible so we wandered back into town.  The parliament building is not very imposing but the cathedral is quite pleasant inside.

We used the bus to take us back to the ferry terminal, Aker Brugge (Bryggetorget means ferry square) and caught the number 91 ferry to Bygdoy the island which has a number of museums.  There was a good climb up away from the pier and then we were quickly in the country.  Rather than visit museums we thought we would like to see an old stave church.  However, this turned out to be in the open air museum.  Having been to two similar ones in Odense and Stockholm we didn't want to visit a third.  In any case this was a good walk in the country back to the second ferry terminal on the island. 
A Pepto Bismol boat
The ferry
We had a good meal for our 22nd wedding anniversary.  Mary started with an excellent fish soup then had baked cod in a lobster sauce.  I started with foie gras then had whale wrapped in bacon with potatoes and mushrooms.  The whalemeat was quite dark and finely textured - like a piece of beef or venison.  It was all very good, well prepared and the service was good.  We ate outside and the wind picked up a little.  However, the canvas roof was rolled down and the somewhat noisy heater warmed things up considerably.
Whale meat is found only in Japan and Norway.

Wednesday 27 June Goteborg to Oslo

It started out fine this morning and we went out for a walk in the gardens but it clouded over and started to rain so we returned to the hotel.

The NSB train left at 1242. Not expecting much from NSB, we brought some food and drink with us. At 1240 there was a message. “There is no food or drink on this train. If you want something you will have to buy it here before we leave."  Mad exodus from train. Maybe this was why we left 2 minutes late.  1242 seems to be a magic time for Goteborg station there are four trains leaving all at this time - long distance trains to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen as well as a local.

The scenery was the best we have so far had in Sweden. Pleasant winding rivers with hills in the background and farmsteads. As soon as we crossed into Norway they attached another train ahead of ours - they had a large number of school kids to accommodate. They just backed the train right into us without stopping first then gently easing in.   Definitely against the rules in most railways and a pretty rough shunt.
 Lots of forest products industries in this part of Norway and there were good views of Oslo fjord as we approached the capital.  In Norway the train became an all stations stopper.

We arrived in Oslo on time and found that much of the station, indeed the city, area is being rebuilt. The hotel is very close to the station. Basic but it will do.

We checked in with the Tourist office and have bought some transit passes. Then we walked over to the amazing Opera house. The roof is different planes and is enormous. Very impressive.
Man and dog on the roof of the Opera House - seen from inside.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday 26 June - Travel Stockholm to Goteborg and wall to wall trams

It was still pretty wet and miserable when we boarded the X2000 fast train to Goteborg this morning.  The country is generally flat and uninteresting.  There is quite a bit of farming but logging is pretty important.  Even the knife, fork and spoon used for the first class breakfast  were made of wood.  I saw just one field of bright yellow rapeseed but other grains were also evident.  As we approached Goteborg many fields were flooded but the sun broke out.  By the time we arrived it was pretty hot indeed.  The hotel is just across the street from the station and our first stop was to clear up the details of the seat reservations for our journey to Oslo tomorrow.  The plaza in front of the hotel is a pedestrian area with trains.  It is rare that there isn't a tram on one of the platforms.  Goteborg is built on mud and is at sea level so a metro system is impracticable.  Trams and buses are used instead.  There are three main types of tram.
- Single cars with separate diamond pantographs which are normally run in pairs
- three unit articulated sets with a low floor centre section.  Usually these have the modern pantograph.
- newer five unit sets, all with the modern pantograph.
The trams are single ended and have doors on one side only.
There would appear to be a tourist tram service but it wasn't running at the moment.
This single car was used by a fellow who was going around putting up signs for the tourist trams.
Click below to see all pictures of Goteborg trams
There don't seem to be any rules as to how one crossed the street here.  People just wander across and there seem to be very few official crosswalks.  The area by the hotel and the tram stop is chaotic but the trams seem to be able to avoid hitting people.

We went to the tourist bureau then caught the 1300 canal  boat tour.  The guide told us that a couple of the bridges are so low that we were going to have to lie on the floor.  I thought he was joking - he wasn't.  On two of the bridges we had to kneel on the floor.  The tour was interesting because we were able to see some of the large vessels moored in the river.  They have a very large dry dock which was impressive to see up close.

After the boat tour we walked down to the fish market which looks very much like a church.  We had a good meal, starting with three types of pickled herring.

The Haga is a newly restored quarter which has a maritime feel about it.  The buildings are clean and pleasant.  Sitting on the canal bank we were surprised to see one of the tour boats filled up with an orchestra, complete with conductor, all in a blue uniform.  Wonder how they managed under the low clearance bridges.  The formal gardens, looked after by they Goteborg Garden Society are beautiful, especially after all that rain.

We walked through the train and bus station (great integration) and then through the largest shopping mall in northern Europe (ugh!) to the water front.  The "Lego Tower" is impressive up close but I am not sure I like it.  The large sailing ship moored next to it is a floating hotel/restaurant.  It is now marooned here because the city built a bridge downstream of it and the masts will not clear.  Some kids were going round an obstacle course on Segways.

 Many of the streets have continuous multi-storey buildings on either side without any street furniture or trees or anything of interest.  We saw this in the Haga and found it elsewhere.  This gives the city an unfriendly, brutal impression.  I presume there are courtyards inside otherwise the area is pretty grim. Mary described these streets as canyons.
Click below to see all pictures of Goteborg

Click below to see all pictures of Sweden Railways

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday 25 June - Stockholm History Museum and an Orgy of Tram Riding

It rained like hell this morning then just heavily this afternoon.  We decided a visit to the History Museum would fill the time.  We spent a lot of time there.  It was moderately interesting but it didn't bring the subject to life like some of the other museums we visited.  How many sets of human bones, decorated alters, hoards of coins, old bits of clothing etc., do you really need to see to get the idea of archaeological excavation?
A railway Pandrol clip is an unusual exhibit in a history museum
A female George killing the dragon
Early in the afternoon, the rain looked like it was going to let up a little and I decided to travel on the rest of the Stockholm tram system.  We had several clips left on our 16 coupon ticket (two coupons per ride per person) but as it turned out I only used four (clips) because the system is so efficient.

I caught the tram from near the museum to the Centralen.  I had to wait over ten minutes for the T bana out to Aflik where I changed to the Nockebybana right through to Nockeby.  This is an old tramway that survived the changeover from left to right hand running on the roads in 1967.  The line was originally set up for left hand running but was changed over at some time but there is still a vestige of the old system at Aflik where the tram starts off left hand running and there is a crossover to right hand running just before the first station at Alleparken.  The line is on a private right of way and seemed to be fully signalled although there are several protected crossings.  The area is pleasantly wooded residential with single family homes.
Nockebybana tram at Nockeby
When I got back on at Nockeby I had 2 minutes left on my first pass but the lady conductor didn't give me another punch.  This was left until I had returned to Aflik and got on a Tvarbana tram towards Sickla udde.
Tvarbanan tram at Aflik
These trams are identical to the Nockeby ones (they are interchangeable) except they were running in multiple.  The two car articulated units and are quite new.  The Tvarbanan line is different from Nockeby.  It has a number of substantial tunnels which are presumably former railway tunnels, some street running as well as some private reservation.  It has obviously been cobbled together from several existing railway lines with some new construction in between.  It runs through an area of much higher density population and there is some industry.  This line is part of a belt-type railway which makes connection with four Metro lines.  The connections are quick and easy.  There are several other locations where buses pull up to the other side of the platform for quick connections.

I went right through to the end of the line at Sickla udde then returned to Gullmarsplan where I caught the T bana back into town.  A very efficient system which is very well used.  In the end I only used two trips on my Clipcard.

We were going up on the elevator later that evening.   It stopped at one and revealed three old ladies.  The first waited until the doors started to close then came on and was hit by the door.  She fell inside and the doors opened.  The second waited until the doors were closing again and came in.  She, too, was smacked by the doors and fell inside.  The third made it in unscathed.  They then found out that we were going up - they wanted to go down. 

Click below to see all pictures taken in Stockholm

Click below to see all pictures of Stockholm local rail transit

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday 24 June - Stockholm, Vasa Museum and Lidingobanan

We took the tram to the Vasa Museum this morning.  The Vasa was a large warship, the first in Sweden with two rows of cannon which sank 20 minutes after being launched in 1628.  It was raised in 1961 and has been painstakingly restored.  It is enormous and impossible to photograph completely.  The light inside the building is very low because of the potential damage to the old timbers.  The initial stage of preservation has been completed but there is a great need to ensure that it will last for a long time.  The strength of the wood has dropped by half and research is necessary to ensure the wood can be permanently preserved.  Already the 5000 bolts put in initially to replace those that had rusted away are beginning to corrode and stainless steel bolts are being experimented with.

We saw first the video presentation which gives good coverage of the raising and restoration, then we took a guided tour which was also very informative.
The original was built with black oak.  The preservative has given it a black shiny finish.  No attempt has been mae to reproduce the beautiful paintwork on the carvings.
Reproductions of some of the carvings together with estimations of what the paint would have looked like.

A 1:10 model showing how the decorations would have looked.
The museum was very absorbing and took up all the morning.  We had a quick look at an icebreaker and a light ship then went for a light lunch.

We had lunch at the restaurant in the Spirits (i.e vodka) Museum.  It was possible to get vodka shots and we tried the classic Absolut and Elderberry.

We couldn't find any sign of the vintage trams so this afternoon we decided to go a little further afield and ride the Lidingobanan.  This is an old electric railway that uses 1950s vintage electric cars and trailers.  A good description can be found at:
The motor car was pretty noisy with lots of traction motor noise.
The trailer car was much quieter than the motor car.
The line is single track with passing sidings, most with spring switches.  It passes through forested areas as well as residential and light industry. Just after the connection with the Metro there is a large bridge over the water to the island.  This has a curved connection at the eastern end, similar to the New Westminster bridge over the Fraser River.  The north part is now a footpath but it may have been the beginning of a second line on the island.

The weather was threatening and rather than look for a ferry to return us to Centralen, we took the first train back and T bana back to the hotel.  This evening was bright so we went to take a look at the island of Sodermalm, just to the south.  A short subway ride brought us to this area which is said to resemble Brooklyn's ShHo area.  In the main it seems to be an older area in which people live and work with nothing very special about it.  There were some attractive older buildings and the views across the water were good.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday June 23 - Stockholm Skansen

It was raining this morning but the forecast was for better weather this afternoon - it stopped raining in the afternoon but remained cloudy.  Good job we went on the boat cruise yesterday.  We took the tram to Skansen, an enormous village containing old buildings and animals from all over Sweden.
Stockholm trams fly the Swedish flag at both ends.

This preserved car and trailer was at the car barns.  They told me it would be running on route 7 tomorrow.
Skansen is enormous.  It is built on some rocky ground, approximately 75 acres.  
There is a funicular railway at the entrance.
This lady was demonstrating making flatbread.  The original is only made from barley because that is all that will grow in the north.  It will keep for 20 years.  It was only in the oven for about a minute or so.
This is also a zoo showing animals that live in the Sweden and the north, reindeer, wild boars etc.
This great grey owl was very tame and came on to the railing of the viewing balcony.  It would quickly turn its head so the photographer had to be quick.
Many of the buildings were open and staffed by people who were very knowledgeable in their subject.  They all spoke excellent English and we spent some time with several of them. One man we spoke to had a degree in history and taught history.  Working here was a great opportunity for him.  We discussed the philosophy of restoration with another - how authentic can you or should you get? is it alright to replace a rotting wooden structure with a similar one using the same materials?

There was dancing around the maypole.  The grass was pretty worn around the maypole so they danced around a Swedish flag instead.
This quickly developed into a free for all with many of the visitors joining in.  Many of them had a garland of leaves on their head to celebrate midsummer and many had come in traditional Swedish costume.  There were many small children and one woman visitor had a young baby in a carrier strapped to her front.  It was pretty vigorous and everyone had a good time.
The goose on the chimney was making a great deal of noise above the grassy roof.
We covered the entire area but must have missed a great deal.  The set up is very good and it provided a great way to understand how people lived and worked in earlier times.

We spent the entire day at Skansen and caught the tram back to the hotel.  The first restaurant we went into for dinner a "bouncer" asked for our coats.  We said we would take them with us.  He insisted and wouldn't tell us why so we left (rudely).  We ate at a place that served Scottish meat across the street.  The meal was excellent.  Black Angus burger (Mary) and beef ribs (Colin).  Both were excellent.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday June 22 - Travel Kalmar to Stockholm, boat tour of the city

We left the hotel early and a three minute walk to the station gave us 30 minutes before the train from Kalmar to Alvesta left.
The engineer was already checking around and doing the standing brake test
There was plenty of room in first class and the hour and a half journey was uneventful.  We arrived in Alvesta in good time but the station announcements were only made in Swedish and there was only one departure board on an extremely long platform.  All Swedish platforms seem to be long -20 cars or more.  The X2000 to Stockholm was a couple of minutes late and we found our reserved seats alright.

The journey to Stockholm was again uneventful and we arrived about 10 minutes early.  Being a holiday the Central station was very crowded but the Tourist Office gave us directions and we walked to the hotel in about ten minutes.

The weather was good today but the forecast for the rest of our stay is not so good so we decided to take the two hour boat cruise to help orient ourselves.  The city is built on 17 islands and we were given a good idea of the way it is laid out.
Tree branches have been used to decorate buildings etc., for the midsummer holiday.
The old city, Gamla Stan, contains a lot of very old buildings but is ruined by the tourist traps.  We found a place to eat and decided to have Swedish meat balls and lingonberry sauce.
Swedish meat balls and lingonberry sauce with mashed potato and gravy,
A pissoir near the royal palace.
We did find a delightful small square (triangle) with a chestnut tree providing lots of shade.  The buildings dated from the 1600s and it was pleasant sitting there in a place that the tourists seemed to miss.

The stone over the door shows 1643
Mary liked the light and shade here.  I like it too.