30 November 2010


Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.

An ignorant person is one who doesn't know what you have just found out.

     ~Will Rogers

29 November 2010


We reached Bergen quite late in the evening and were trying to find our way about and asked directions from this really sweet Chinese girl. She offered to show us the correct bus stop and we started chatting, asking her what according to her as a local (she was born there), are the must see sights in Bergen etc. She just hoped for us that the weather would hold up…then quizzically looked at us…’You have heard about the Bergen weather, haven't you?’.

Few conversations later with locals and guides, and we come to know about the famous (or should I say infamous?) Bergen weather. Bergen gets an average of 80 inches of rain per year and boasts only 60 days of sunshine in a good year. Typical days are the ones with an all-day downpour!!! In fact there is a famous saying in this part of the world… “There’s no such thing as bad weather – just inappropriate clothing.” And we were inappropriately dressed…no umbrellas, no rain jackets!!!

Bryggen Small wooden houses characterize this city and the no 1 touristy thing to do is visit the part of the city called Old Bergen.  So that is where we headed the next morning. Old Bergen has been reconstructed along the harbor with wooden houses from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Dating back almost 900 years, these old wooden buildings along the harbor front in Bergen are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

A short walk and we reached Bryggen’s Museum. They have a 90 minutes guided walk that starts at the Bryggen’s Museum, then walks through Bryggen and ends at the Hanseatic Museum.

The guide was very informative but what we realized here is that unlike some other places where the guides tend to have a great sense of humor and make the guided tour very interesting with anecdotes and just some off the top of their head comments and have you giggling all the time, here they take their guiding very, very seriously. It was like one big monotone. I wouldn't say he had mugged it all up and didn't have any knowledge apart from his script because he was able to answer all the questions that we asked.

Viking ShipViking land…it finally hit me as I saw a huge Viking Ship the moment we entered the display section of this museum. Bryggen’s Museum has been built on the site of the archeological excavations or the remains of the first settlement at Bryggen. The oldest buildings are from the 12th century, and the various finds have been left in the ground where they were found by the archaeologists. Bergen has been ravaged by fires and they have used the layers of housing to determine the age of the buildings. in spite of many fires over the centuries, Bergen still has one of the largest collections of wooden dwellings in Europe. 

Interesting Metallurgy! On our way out, saw this interesting Metallurgy on the wall of the museum. Looking closely one realized that they were Viking Ships.

The wooden buildings in Bryggen are in the form of double tenements (row houses) which are very colorful and tall but at the same time very  narrow and lean haphazardly across the narrow cobblestone streets and planked walkways. They have nice pulley systems to pull the stuff up to the top floor.The  narrow lanes and by-lanes dotted with quaint little shops and workshops in this area means its quite easy to go around in circles. Tenements But the beauty is that every time, you end up peeking inside some other shop so it looks like you are in that lane for the 1st time! We did see one very interesting building…it had been partly reclaimed. So one half is higher than the other!

The Hanseatic Museum shows how the German merchants from The Hanseatic League lived and worked and is the only house on Bryggen which has kept its original interior. Quite an interesting (but stinky) museum, with it’s piles of dried Salmon!!! The way they utilized space….narrow beds in a small cupboard like enclosure…made me wonder…were they slaves? But what I liked most here were the beautiful water color paintings.

Dried Salmon in Hanseatic Museum Paintings in Hanseatic Museum

Now on our own to discover some more of the city, we were walking around when I noticed that the drain holes were quite decorative and interesting.Norway 305 Later in Oslo we were told that the ones there show the Saint of Oslo.  Not sure what the one in Bergen represents though. We did manage to attract quite a few smiles as we tried to get a shots of ourselves against a backdrop of Bryggen from across the street– we wanted to remove our sweaters and jackets and we didn’t want any vehicles in the background…so wait, wait, wait for the prefect shots!

Walked through the next most important place in Bergen - The Fish Market, though I guess we weren't in any mood for shopping so we just  walked right across to the ‘Baguette Place’, where my friend got such an interesting one done…that the guy behind the counter commented…This is the 1st time I made something like this!!!

Enough of aimless walking, we decided to go for a City Walking Tour. It starts at the Tourist Information Center- which is also known as the Fresco Hall for its beautiful frescoes which are now recognized as a national treasure. The 3 walls have 3 different themes – as you enter the wall on your left is the North Country Wall representing fishing near Lofoten in North-Norway, the wall in front is the The Bergen Wall which shows the heavily loaded vessels arriving at the Bergen harbor and their trade to the world market, and the wall to your right is the The World Wall, showing man's importance in the busy machine age. Interesting information, which I wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't pointed it out. But what really made this walk worth it was the walk  through these narrow staircase like pathways between the houses. I don't think we would have ventured there on our own! Or even known that those ways existed. All along she gave us interesting facts about Bergen. Like the city is built on seven mountains and straddles seven fjords.

Norway 416 At the end of this walk we had planned to go up to Mount Floyen. The only difference we had was…should we walk it or should we catch the Funicular or the Floybanen. There were numerous paths through beautiful woodland terrain to reach the top, but I just didn't have the energy. So finally we decided…we take the Floybanen up and come down walking. In hindsight, I would say that it was a brilliant decision. The views as we went up the funicular were magnificent.  And it gave is time to explore the woods at the top. There were several walks and we decided to take the one which goes to a lake. It was a beautiful walk but soon it started drizzling and as we were returning fog enveloped us. Norway 424I was in 2 minds, maybe we should take the funicular back. But P was hell bent…she wanted to trek down and so off we went, with me nervous like anything….I know its not like India where we don't have railings etc. And I possibly couldn't fall off the cliff. But I was worried that we would get lost. But I should have rest assured because as we were walking down we saw so many locals. This was a normal route for them, something they probably take everyday to and fro from work, school etc.

Tired feet…but still craving to see more of this beautiful town. Compromise…we see the sights as we walk towards the railway station. We had only a day here, but to others I would recommend at least 2 days here.

26 November 2010

Norway In A Nutshell

Norway FjordsDuring the initial planning for Scandinavia visits, we started with Copenhagen in Denmark, Norway, Stockholm and Helsinki. As the costs started escalating slowly, slowly we started dropping off places. Helsinki went first, then Denmark. One of things that made us sure that Norway wont be the one that will not go off the list was the ‘Norway in a Nutshell’ trip. The description, pictures and videos had us totally floored.

This trip is like one of those hop on, hop off tourist buses…expect its not just a bus. But various modes of transport – train, boat and bus rides are used as one moves from Oslo in the South East to Bergen in the South West. The trip traverses through beautiful and ever changing landscape and one gets to see  some of the most spectacular fjords, breathtaking waterfalls and also get a taste of human achievement when the bus takes the Stalheimskleiva road

Norway Scenery!The trip starts at 8:00 AM from Oslo…so packed breakfast munched at the bus stop as we rushed to the railway station to start the first leg of the journey on ‘The Bergen Railway’ from Oslo to Myrdal.  

The journey is  about 5 hrs over Europe’s largest mountain plateau and quite a bit runs through harsh mountain terrain….but one doesn’t tire staring out of the window to catch the panorama of spectacular scenery with the waterfalls and greenery! No wonder that this ride has been voted one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys. 2nd week of August is nearly the end of the tourist season so we were lucky, the train wasn’t very crowded. And so like a little kid I would hop from one side to the other, from back of the coach to the front, to shoot picturesque memories. I just couldn't get enough - I have 172 snaps from only this one day!

At Myrdal...waiting for the FlamAll the pamphlets said…glorious views of the snow-capped fjords and glaciers. But by beginning of August most of the snow has melted, leaving my friend a bit disappointed as she kept waiting for the snow capped mountains to appear!!!

As we got off the train in Myrdal, there was a distinct chill in the air. Since there was lots of changes in transport and we didn't want to be lugging around a lot of luggage, we had decided to leave a major part of our luggage in Oslo.Fjords!!! But I don't know why, I had carried a sweater, shawl, cap and a thin jacket. So on came the sweater, shawl, cap…while my friend had a double layer of jackets on as we waited at the Railway Station for the next leg of the journey – from Myrdal to Flåm on the famous local Flåm Railway, a beautiful 1 hour journey.

Considered a masterpiece of engineering, the Flåm Train glides through tunnels and open stretches on its way down to wild Flam valley. The mountains were mighty impressive…really huge and with these hundreds of waterfalls, many of which were not very voluminous but their depth was amazing. A long, long trickle, that falls over these gigantic mountains.

A Trickle And a thunder

Though there was this one thundering waterfall where the train stops to let you enjoy the waterfall. As we were just soaking in the beauty, we heard surreal music.Fairy??? I was looking around to see if some person had some kind of a music system, when suddenly everyone was pointing at the rocks just next to the waterfall. A lady in red was dancing on the rocks. Suddenly she disappeared and reappeared at another higher place!!!Actually that was another one. They did this beautiful duet between them, when one would go down another would come up and take over from where she left.  It was so smooth, and gave the intended effect, of a fairy flying about!!!

I was just so impressed with this idea. Why couldn't we in India do something like this. Imagine…Jog Falls and a lady doing some Bharat Natyam close by. It would be awesome!!! But if wishes were horses….

SpectacularA short stop at Flåm and off we were on a 2 hr Fjord cruise to Gudvangen. There were these plastic chairs that you take and put them on the deck where you want to sit. We did get 2 chairs and placed them right in front of the cruise boat, but didn't sit for even  a second.  There is just no way to describe this journey. A fjord is described as narrow deep inlets of the sea set between high rocky cliffs…high rocky cliffs doesn't even sound half as impressive as they are. They were massive and the water just kept changing colors.

Deep BlueThe  place that we had made for a wonderful place to pose and get pictures. We were constantly being requested to take photos for people and soon we were joking around and demanding 10 bucks!!! Our joviality, though had a side effect when one Russian fellow got after my friend and kept on chewing her brains. He insisted that she try a sip of his Russian Vodka…that also neat, that he had been sipping constantly from a coke bottle. Normal circumstances I would have walked away from him. But our spot was perfect…gave us spellbinding views of the fjords as the boat cruised along, so much so that I decide to just tolerate him!

Solitary....The boat goes from Sognefjord into the Naeroyfjord, which is one of the narrowest fjords in Europe, surrounded by mighty mountains of up to 1800 meters. Often the boat would move closer to the shore and slow down to give us closer views of the waterfalls or scenery. We even managed to see some seals! And some solitary homes at the top of the mountains!!!

At Gudvangen we disembarked to continue our journey by bus through a mountainous valley to Voss. Here we noticed in the Norwegian landscape, houses with grass on the roofs. It seems, this not only keeps the houses warm, but is a good alternative to the tiles. Hairpin BendsThe last bit of the bus ride is on the Stalheimskleiva road, where the driver zoomed down the twists and turns to cover 13 hairpin bends! It was quite steep and a bit scary…actually quite a bit of an adventure. It wouldn't do justice to our reputation if we Indians got scared on a bus… after all we have experience with the Calcutta Taxi and Kerala Red Bus Drivers!

It is absolutely essential to experience the amazing Norway in a Nutshell as it leaves you completely dazzled. And my friend wasn't exaggerating when she said that Norway is a beautiful picture perfect country.

18 November 2010

Oslo or Jullandhar!

Norway finally!!! It seemed at one point that it wasn't happening…several plans with different groups of friends just wouldn’t materialize. The worst was the plan cancelled by 2 of my friends because of the volcano in Iceland and the subsequent disruption in air traffic. We had done just so much r & d on the net.
Luckily all the research didn’t go waste when suddenly one day quite close to my return from Finland, one of my friends decided she was coming to Scandinavia.

Her tickets were blocked, we were awaiting the visa when suddenly we had another scare. My company nearly cancelled my leave! But I managed to convince them by cutting short the trip by 2 days and deciding to visit only Norway and give Stockholm and Helsinki a miss.

But I guess there were still more surprises in store. All train tickets, hostels and guided trips booked, we were getting all excited when for some reason I revisited the bookings. And thank god for that -  my friend had by mistake booked all hostels for 2011 instead of 2010!!! I had a strong feeling we wouldn’t get hostel bookings for 2010 Norwaegian Airlines!since we were making bookings too close to the dates, but fortunately I was proved wrong….and am I glad. Most of the hostels changed the dates and only in one place we had to book another hotel.

So finally after our share of adventure we landed in Oslo. Though initially Norway beckoned because of its natural beauty and fjords, I was sure we were in for a lot of culture too. It was evident from the tails of the Norwegian airlines planes!

Luckily there was a direct bus from the airport (nearly 50 kms from Oslo city) that left us quite close to the youth hostel. Norway Otherwise living up to its reputation as the most expensive city in the world it would have cost us a bomb to take a cab!

If I had to describe Norway in just one word, it wouldn’t be that difficult. There is just beauty everywhere. Even the ride from the airport to the city was beautiful. I wondered, do they have any industries and polluting factories?

Wenche FossMy friend had reached a couple of hours earlier than me and so she had already left for city center when I reached. She has picked up some of the tourist books and maps…1st glance…this place has soooooooooooooooooooo many museums! There are 50 museums and galleries in Oslo itself!!! We marked what we wanted to cover and immediately took off exploring Oslo.

I saw this beautiful statue outside the Opera House. It is another statue of the playwright Henrik Ibsen that is more famous and visited by tourists, but I personally feel that she deserves more recognition when I heard about her. Her name is Wenche Foss, an actress who had a child with Down’s syndrome. At a time when people hid about their differentially abled children , she openly took him out and felt no shame. ChurchShe was also diagnosed with cancer and felt no embarrassment in being photographed bald. She is also the mother of the Oslo Mayor!

The square outside the National theater was like in most cities with live singing by 2 ladies and jugglers etc.

From there we moved to Holmenkollen, the ski jump arena and museum, which honestly was a let down given the amount of publicity it gets. Its in the top 10 attractions in Oslo, though I beg to differ. Infact I preferred the cute wooden church close by, even though it was closed and we couldn’t go inside.

Norway 053Back to Oslo city center, where we heard there was some Mela! Artists from all over the world would be performing that weekend. As  we moved towards our destination, we were shocked to see many, many Indians. It was like every 2nd person is an Indian. As we reached the Town Hall, we realized that day there were Indian and Pakistani artists performing and so the crowd of Asians. And then there were the stalls of Jalebis, Samosas, Kababs etc. It was like we  were in Jullandhar and not Oslo. I was starved of India…I had been in Finland for last 6 months, so was totally excited at seeing all that jhim jham. My friend was like…I want to see Oslo, not India!

And true Indian Mela Istyle, one could get ones picture taken outside the Taj Mahal or standing alongside a jazzed up truck straight from Pakistan!

Norway 050Norway 056

17 November 2010

Calvin’s Serenity Prayer

The strength to change what I can,
The inability to accept what I can't,
And the incapacity to tell the difference.

Some of us prefer it to the original…which goes like…

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

16 November 2010

The Guinness record for Talking goes to…

This post is a request…I had mentioned to my friend that a certain gentleman was BLOG MATERIAL and then somehow didn’t get down to writing the blog. She reminded me…it appears to me that she is following my blog and has been eagerly waiting for this post. (Well..SJ if you read this, you better leave behind a comment as this one is for you!)

On a recent trip to Chennai, my friend and I were forced to share a cab with a gentleman from our office. Our manager mentioned as we were leaving…’he’s a real nice fellow…but talks a lot’. That from him should have warned us…as he himself talks non stop and nineteen to a dozen!!!

We had barely settled in the cab that he started firing questions at us. In about 1 KM i.e to someone who knows the route, I would mention till we reached from our office to the main DLF Park gate, he had gathered from us how long we had been working with QA team, which project we were in now, how long we had been with Logica, how long in Bangalore, how long in Chennai etc etc.

Without even catching his breath, he moved to the next topic. It must be appreciated that he was NEVER, not even for a second at a loss for a topic to converse on.

Where do I stay in Bangalore, is it my own house or rented. As I mentioned ITPL, he asked if my husband works in ITPL. The moment I said happily unamarried, his brain started working double time. Calculations…and as he started asking more questions on my experience I could feel he is trying to calculate my age. I saved him the trouble and told him my age. I couldn’t see his face but am sure his jaw dropped. But still that didn’t stop him from blabbering away. He was like ‘Look at the girls these days. And then he started telling us about another colleague of ours, who was also not married, saying that she says ‘ she is happy like this and doesn’t want to get married’. The saving grace was that SJ is married! I wonder what would have happened if SJ also said she was unmarried!

But she wasn’t to be spared either. She was hungry and this gentleman decided that the next topic of discussion would be food!!! It all started with where I was staying in Chennai?  I was in a guest house and this place serves only vegetarian food and that was why he hated it when he was made to stay there the last time he was in Chennai. He was like “I need at least 15 non veg items on my plate when I am here in Chennai…chicken, muuton, fish…’. Had we been to XYZ restaurant (cant remember the name now)?” As we said no, he made it sound as if we had missed out on life itself. “What a place, so much food, chicken, mutton, gravy. He was like, I have told admin, I will stay only in the hotel. No guest house for me.”

The excitement in his words was infectious. SJ was like…should we go and have food there now?

Then he went on to describe the previous evening. He went to some bar and restaurant near his place…he refused to tell the name of this place as he began his anecdote. Not that he gave us a chance after that to ask him once again the name of the place!!! It seems with the beer the waiter came with…not one BUT 4 BIG bowls of snacks…and free!!! There was chips, peanuts, mixture…he ate and drank and ate and drank.

By now SJ’s stomach was growling and growling. She wanted to know if we could get anything to eat at the guest house. I was like I can ask the caretaker to make some idlis. That was it. Our conversation…

Him: for dinner?

Me: no snacks. (actually I could have Idlis for dinner but he made it sound as if we were crazy)

Him: At this time? (It was 7:00). If you have snacks now, when will you have dinner. What time do you have your dinner, what time do you have lunch? What time do you have breakfast?

Without even giving us a chance to speak, he was like…looks like you all eat the whole day long!

These are just some of the discussions we had that evening. But believe me, he didn’t pause for even a second in the whole 1.5 hrs journey. So much so that by the end of it, SJ decided that we would get off and take an auto.

There was one more person from his team in the car who was to get off in town and where SJ and I decided to get off also. And as all 3 of us got off, you could hear the disappointment in his voice…all 3 of you are getting off.

We smiled and nodded and at least SJ and I thought…poor driver, he’s in for it now!

I talk a LOT! So does SJ! And definitely our manager too. Well, he talks more than the 3 of us put together!!!