Archive for April, 2006

After spending the bulk of my time in Oslo I decided last weekend to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city . I took the train, apparently one of the most “spectacular” rides in Europe, headed west toward the coast. Since I booked so late it was cheaper to detour and take the famous “Norway in a Nutshell” tour…

After 3 or so hours heading west, the forested countryside started to look a lot interesting as the train entered the hills and then mountains that divide the coast from the rest of the country. We passed the tree-line and traverssed a flat glaciar and snow-covered plateau, then arrived at Myrdal. Here the tourists jumped out and got on another rail line down to Flåm, a town beside a fjord. The train rapidly descended 2838 feet, the steepest ride in the world, through twenty tunnels carved out of rock and past waterfalls that were still frozen in place.

In Flåm we boarded a ferry and spent a couple of hours passing through two of the fjords. The tourists were pretty funny and almost caricatures: Japanese taking lotsa photos, Latinos having a party, some Aussies drinking… Nontheless, the fjords were worth it. They are dotted with tiny villages that are completely cut off except for by boat.

When we landed we piled on a bus to Voss and from there took the train into Bergen. All up about a 12-hour journey. Kitch and touristy, but fun nonetheless. In Bergen I stayed with my friend from DC Yana Gorbalenya, who has been through some life-changing experiences in the past 12 months. She left DC to take some film classes in Prague, met a Norwegian, and is now in Bergen married with identical twins. The babies were 6 months old and too cute. Yana was our field producer for Disarm on the first shoot in Thailand.

I took a walk with Yana through the city and up one of the cable cars. It is a beautiful setting with seven mountains and many inlets and islands (a bit of Rio). Yana had received a weather-proof tracksuit for Christmas that she said has been invaluable in the city’s rain. It rained a bit, but then cleared up into a sunnyd day. Kinda like Wellington in that sense I guess!

This is my last week in Norway – boo hoo!

It’s whaling season in Norway. Eleven countries signed a joint letter of protest, including New Zealand, which was delivered to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Norway has defied the international ban on whaling since the early 1990s. I haven’t met a Norwegian yet who has not defended their right to hunt whale,, a livelihood that was once critical to communities living along the rugged west coast. Now that they’ve got oil, the hunting is more of a tradition. Here’s what the local paper Aftenpostenn described it…

“The hunt seems more symbolic and seeped in tradition than backed by commercial reward. The market for whale meat is small, and it’s not the staple of the Norwegian diet that it once was. The market for whale blubber is also restricted, and exports are limited.”

It was Easter this past weekend in case those of you in the U.S. forgot. Here in Norway it’s impossible to avoid. The office quickly emptied out last week as everyone headed for the hills, or mountains, to get their last ski trip in. Everything closed down Thursday, Friday, and Monday. Since Easter is not really celebrated in the U.S., at least not with days off work, I had kind of forgotten about this holiday, which is also popular back in New Zealand.

I joined the crowds leaving Oslo and caught a train to Hamer together with my friend John Rodsted, a photographer who documented the mines campaign and brought the field perspective to the diplomats, and his girlfriend Mette Elieussen, another old friend from the mines campaign. Mette grew up in Hamer, a town by a lake about 1.5 hours north of Oslo. A smaller town made famous by the 1994 Winter Olympics, Lillehamer, lies at the very northern end of the lake. I can’t remember the lake’s name, but it is huge and still frozen in parts.

We spent the weekend at Mette’s sister’s farmhouse together with one of Mette’s friends visiting from the U.S., Angela and her daughter Gabriella. The snow has disappeared from the streets in Oslo, but up in the mountains there was still plenty. We spent a day sledding down the hill behind the house and feeding about twenty sheep and their lambs. The sheep sleep in the barn at night, but spend the days outside munching on hay and running from the rather aggressive house cat Leo, who seems to really like the snow!

We also went cross-country skiing a couple of times, not far-ten kilometers-but still exhausting! Did all the usual Easter things like eating too much, including too many chocolate eggs. No drinking ‘caus we forgot to get to the State-run wine store before it closed at 4pm. All alcohol stronger than beer can only be purchased in these stores. We drank brandy Angela had brought instead!

When I came back to Oslo the winter sales were in full effect, so I bought some really nice skis and boots that were 70% off or $150 total. I’ll need to come back here to make any use of them! Now all the sports shops are full of bicycles for Spring! I have just eight days left here…

Yesterday I went caught the ferry to Nesodden, a penninsula about 30 minutes from Oslo by boat, but 50 minutes by car. It was overcast, but the water was smooth as a lake. My old friend Michael Hands is back briefly from his assignment with the UN mine action program in Khartoum, Sudan and I went to check out the garage he has converted into an apartment located just footsteps away from the fjord.

The snowfall reaches down to the water’s edge, which is rocky with tiny bath houses. The one he shares also has a small sauna? The location is quite amazing: right on the water complete with sunset!

Later we drove down to Drøbak, a small town at the edge of the narrowest part of Oslo Fjord. The town was made famous in World War Two when a local commander in a fort across the fjiord sank a German Navy ship passing on its way to invade the Oslo.

As a brass band played on the deck of the boat, the Norwegian commander lobbed a single round that hit the ship’s magazine of ordnance blowing the boat sky high. The event allowed enough time for the Norwegian parliament to evacuate the country and reconvene in London for the rest of the war.

At the supermarket this morning, I noticed the pre-packed salami and pepperoni had been removed from refridgerator following the continued e-coli bacteria scare that started last month. last month. One of the plants of major Norwegian food company called Glide has been blamed for poor qualtity control that resulted in the contaminated meat, which so far has killed one child and made 15 others seriously ill from kidney failure. The problems have not been limited to salami. A few weeks ago ground beef was pulled from shelves. Glad I only eat beef from “Halal King Burger” down the street!

Someone told me a joke that immigrants to Norway tell their families back home:

“What do Norwegians call five minutes past 4:00pm?”
” – Overtime”

It is pretty amazing to be warned you’re “overdoing it” by staying in the office until 6:00pm. Coffee in the canteen is available from 8:30am onwards and no earlier. The ethic about dividing time between work and family, etc, holds strong here. Much more so than in the United States. I’ve probably spent at least five nights here in the office waiting for phone calls from media back in New Zealand wanting to interview me for the Disarm’s NZ premiere. Each time I somehow manage to get a bunch of work done, perhaps because it is so much quieter and fewer distractions?

Norwegian’s also have a great attitude toward socializing at work as well. In the two months since I arrived there’s been three birthday cakes, two ski days, a pub night, and, last Friday, “Quiz” night in the canteen. The last one is indicative of a craze that’s been sweeping the country…

Quiz nights are regularly held at the local pub or elsewhere in which several teams of 4 people each participate in a kind of “Trivial Pursuit.” The one we had was held in the canteen, where after drinking for more than an hour, the pizza finally arrived and we got started on the quiz. My team consisted of just three people: a Norwegian, an Ethiopian married to a Norwegian, and me with zero Norwegian language skills. Yet we managed to come fourth out more than eight teams!