Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Eleven

Dream World

AS the morning sun settles into place over Oslo, a weird gobbing noise sounds from the window outside the hostel. I catch the eye of the French girl who's just moved in to share the moment, but she just looks at me with her sad, French eyes. I suppose she was too busy being existential. 

'The park is worth it for the view'
ELLIE and I make our way over to the National Museum to see a Tori Wranes exhibition. By now, I've decided that I quite like contemporary art (which Ellie informs me is not the same as modern art). Wranes' dream world is fascinating, and I can almost believe I'm in one. The security guard sitting outside halfway between the dark cavern of the gallery and the white brightness of the fountain outside looks beautifully bored in his strange placement, almost asleep. I suppose you will get bored if you stay anywhere for too long. Next, we travel to the Vigeland Scultpure park, which is packed with people (both real and sculpted). The sculptures themselves aren't really that interesting imho, but the park is worth it for the view - the highest point looks out across houses and hills and greenery and tarmac, which is fine for me as I sit at the bottom of a huge monolith of stone bodies and gaze into the distance. 
An American woman has just told me to move so she can take a photo. Typical. I almost refuse on the grounds that she's not going to take a better photo than the hundreds of professional ones that already exist of every bloody thing in this park, but I don't. On the topic: maybe I've been away too long, but I pass two girls with the most fake sounding English accents I've ever heard. Is there a place in Britain where people sound like bad American  actors that I've just never been to?

'A boat takes us to one of the islands that run along the fjord'
A boat takes us, along with Sofia and Anja, to one of the islands that run along the fjord. It amazes me that taking such a boat costs the same amount as the tram or metro. It's beautiful, and the monastic ruins that characterise this particular island are overrun with teenagers playing a complex game of what appears to be hide and seek tig. We sit on the beach, eating an assortment of food and scuffing our shoes in the sand. 

BACK at the hostel, we chat to Ana, an affable, affectionate, and amusing girl with a head of curly brown hair, one strand of which is dyed into a rainbow. We sit on the roof and talk about scenography. On a less picturesque note, I can't believe that:
a) You have to ask for a key to use the toilet at reception.
b) The way they remind you to give it back afterwards is by plastering the door with old memes such as 'one does not simply keep the toilet key' and 'I don't always use the toilet key, but when I do, I remember to give it back.' This has the effect of making me almost use said toilet for vomming in.
c) The graffiti in the cubicle ranges from standard ("I love scandinavia") to political ("Fuck the Tories" "Yes mate vote UKIP") to bizzarre reviews of the actual hostel ("Don't order the breakfast. Very disappointing.")
With Anja, we sit in the half light, drinking tea while it rains outside and discussing anything in the world - the annoying way academics write, creepy guys, and the pros and cons of different education systems. She's so nice to talk to. Everything instantly becomes both personal and philosophical.

'We sit in the half light'

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Ten


TO get to the Science Museum, we travel through the morning sunlight and mountains of Kjelsas, a little suburb a tram ride away from the centre of Oslo. On the way to the building, we buy watermelon slices from some children setting up a stall at the side of the road. The silent hilltop town just seems too beautiful. The museum, to put it simply, is amazing. We spend the morning dancing to A-Ha on samply synths, using split second timers to race each other, making wind tunnels, and playing on tiny roundabouts. It sparks a discussion that culminates in Ellie and Sofia agreeing to create the most interactive and interesting exhibition ever, in any country other than the US (reminder that Sofia is Mexican and Ellie is a #DirtyCommie).

WE wind back through the valley and back into town, where we stop off a few stops early at a food festival, comprising of about 20 marquees selling snacks of every kind. Sofia grabs me some empanadas (in Spanish) and we wander through a maze of pakora, Thai curry, tapas, samosas, and the largest amount of olives I've ever seen. There's also a little stall of Norwegian sausages but it looks a bit sad and neglected in amongst the beautiful freshly cooked noodles. On the way back to the hostel, we pick up some free juice, stare at a girl with emerald green hair crossing the road, and stare at some girls in fancy dress, who wave manically at us.

LATER, we go to an exhibition at a contemporary art museum from a number of Chinese artists. I spend nearly all my time sitting in a box watching a utopian simulation. It makes me incredibly sad. We walk back along the waterfront, which looks essentially the same as in every other European city - grey and glass and black, and populated by expensive restaurants. We do stop for ice cream though because the view is quite nice. Back at the hostel it's what will be the first of many quesadilla nights back at the hostel, and the salsa drips down our fingers as we mingle with a few new arrivals in between mouthfulls of melting cheese.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Nine


WE'VE found people who enjoy going to museums as much as we do, so we take a bus to the Viking Ship Museum together, which consists of three gigantic boats and a number of smaller Viking artefacts. We like it so much that we spend a lot of time at the tiny gift shop afterwards, where we have to prevent Sofia from buying a tiny and very overpriced drinking horn. She concedes that it's not worth it, but I have a strong feeling she'll never forget about that horn.

IN the Historical and Folk Museums we see even more horns - all heavy and decorated and beautiful, so we feel justified in our choice to reject the tiny plastic one. The Folk Museum also contains a number of traditional wooden houses, which seem lovely until you step inside and immediately think you're about to die because the teetering old house is collapsing.

EVERYONE is very interested and knowledgeable about British politics at the moment, so discussing the extent to which the tories have screwed up keeps us entertained on the way to the National Gallery. I stare at the iPhones which double as audio guides nestled in a glass-like simulated womb as they charge. I learn more about art movements and find another sculpture that I quickly become obsessed with.

WITH the other girls in the hostel, we head to Punjab Tandoori, which I also become obsessed with. So delicious! So amazing! So cheap! It's the first time I've ever 'gone out for an Indian' and actually enjoyed it.
We walk slowly along the river to Club Bla and the 'penis swan' on the river, laughing at both the ridiculousness of it and kangaroos for not being able to walk backwards (we made an Australian friend. We're learning facts about marsupials).
Our subsequent night out is as eventful as most. We drink expensive cocktails, then head back to the roof of our hostel to find cheaper drinks with every other student in Oslo. We bond and look out over the city, doing ridiculous dares and trying to outdrink Sofia (she's Mexican. Apparently the the thing about them being obsessed with tequila is not a lie). Austin takes us to a weird club where we dance to swing music on a chequered floor. It turns out that, as Norway is so small, it's not difficult to find someone who knows The Wombats, so I'm currently being treated to the story behind 'Isabel'. It all sounds like a mess.

I don't think I'll ever get bored of watching people walk the streets, uninhibited after doing something momentous and reckless. It's like Tori Wranes says - our true selves come out at night. Or in this case after no sleep and a lot of alcohol. The night and dawn after experiencing strange things and strange rules are one of the world's 'hot pockets', as she calls them - 'generous in its embrace of the quirky' - where we are ourselves.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Eight


THE weather is sunnily warm, with just a slight breeze as Ellie and I board the metro to Sognsvann. There, we take a leisurely walk around one of the huge blue lakes, occasionally stopping to sit by the water. We take a little detour up a hill through the forest and emerge at a rocky outcrop at the peak, which is covered in ferns and pylons.

AFTER getting some ice cream, we sit by the edge of the lake, along with children wading and families lighting BBQs. We discuss how lovely it is that two of the girls in our room are spending the day going to art museums together after only meeting this morning. As we're discussing this happening of friendship, a girl next to us expresses a wish to wade to some rocks in the lake, but is annoyed that her skinny jeans make that impossible. At this, her friend in shorts carries her across instead of letting her get her trousers soaked.

WHEN we return to the hostel, we meet some other girls in our room whilst attempting to eat instant soup out of Tupperware. We bond over the underwhelmingness of European dancing, and the difficulty of the doors in the hostel (every one is an intensely heavy fire door! Is this really necessary?). At least some thoughts are universal.
The room is filled with laughter for the evening, and I think about the continuous wonder of meeting new people you instantly click with.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Seven


WE wake up at 4:00am to get the bus to the airport, which is as painful as you'd expect, especially since I didn't get to sleep until 1am. However, I definitely cheer up when I hear a guy with a drawling American accent pronounce 'Skyr Iceland' as 'Sky Riceland' in the airport. As we fly into Norway, the ice capped mountains gradually transform into luscious flatlands beneath insubstantial clouds. There are vibrantly green fields, sudden slopes and hills, winding rivers, and still blue lakes in the midst of vast full forests.

PERHAPS because of my sleep deprivation and a two hour flight, I get the giggles as soon as we land. I'm fascinated by the architecture of the airport, the reindeer sandwiches, and the 4ft troll toys on sale, but I'm mainly set off by the airport bins of all things. They do look a bit like Star Wars droids. I'm fully cackling after Ellie tries to steal the Kit Kat I'm eating in a bid to gain some chocolate and also recreate 'The Tramp and the Dog,' as she calls it.

AFTER a walk in the heat to the hostel with our bags, we treat ourselves to a Thai takeout, which we eat by the curves of the river, people/dog/bird watching. We then meander along the river, turning our gaze to the old converted factories and bars. I think we might be in the Digbeth of Oslo, but a more pretentious version. Our wander culminates in a park, where we lie in the grass and decide which of the aforementioned bars we should go to. We decide we should go to see Frank Znort at Club Bla the night Ellie gets her results. Amazing. Frustratingly, we leave some shopping at the supermarket, and some beds get mixed up which causes some drama
at the hostel, but I nevertheless feel so at peace here. The city is so beautiful I already miss it. Ellie says she can picture herself living here. Oddly, so can I.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Six

'The cafe is obviously tourist orientated but lovely'

WE decide to spend our last day in Reykjavik mooching about the city on a quest to find 'the country's best cheesecake.' Priorities take hold though, as first we have a look around the Phallological Museum (hilarious and horrifying in equal parts). Facts we learn include that human penises used to be slightly spiked; a ram's testicles are disproportionately massive; a blue whale's penis is surprisingly small; and a sperm whale's penis is surprisingly large. My favourite bit was the folklore section, which contained samples from a kelpie, a merman, and a troll, among other things.

'Genuinely might be the best cheesecake ever'
CAFE Babalu is where we choose to reflect on the experience, over a massive bowl of chilli and nachos and two slices of what genuinely might be the best cheesecake ever. The cafe is obviously tourist orientated (the American at the bar is wearing a rainbow hat with a whirly fan on top) but lovely. It's design reminds me of one of my favourite bars in Tokyo - full of random decorations that somehow go perfectly together. I think we spend about two hours simply trying to get through all the deliciousness we order.

'The sky high arches that run over the hall accentuate the shining organ'
'The quiet stained glass pictures a colourful scene'
LATER, we walk inside the cathedral. Outside, it has obviously been designed to mirror the salt columns of the south coast. The pews have been carved in the same way. The sky high grey arches that run over the hall accentuate the majestic silver shining organ, and the quiet stained glass window pictures the virgin and and child against a colourful scene. It strikes me that all religious houses are essentially the same - feats of architecture designed to reflect a godly and profound experience of something more. That enlightened sense, when you feel at peace yet overflowing as endorphins rush through you. Sort of like what I felt eating that Nutella cheesecake.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Nordic Lands - Day Five


WE get the first possible bus to Blue Lagoon, winding our way through the mountains at 7:30am so we can spend the whole day there.

IT quickly becomes abundantly clear that this is a spa retreat for wealthy Americans, and I balk at how overpriced it is. However it is overwhelmingly nice - all calming water and floating bars, smooth wood and dark tiles.

WHILST everybody is floating about serenely, we spend time splashing about and pretending to drown each other. At one point I do accidentally submerge myself for some unknown reason (I think I just forgot how to stand up). At the same time, I don't think I can capture how relaxing it is to spend the whole day floating. The water is so salty it makes skulling natural. I imagine being kidnapped by mermaids as Ellie gently leads me, suspended by the water, around corners and under bridges. She does eventually nearly put me in a waterfall but it's relaxing nonetheless.

A silica mud mask is included in our entrance fee, and Ellie and I definitely get our money's worth. I apply it everywhere I possibly can because the salt irritates my skin, and Ellie does the same because the sun irritates hers. It turns out we aren't the only ones with this agenda, and I notice people who appear to be wearing a long sleeved shirt because of the amount of mud they have on. Even better are the bald men who've applied the mask to their entire head, which I find endlessly fascinating and hilarious in equal measures.

BECAUSE the water is an opaque light blue, it's impossible to see how deep it is. I struggle to breathe as I laugh at Ellie walking through the (half a meter deep) pool crouched down in order to remain submerged. Next to me, standing up like a normal person, she looks like a concerned gnome in a pool full of tourists complaining about how the smoothies are non-alcoholic. Sidenote: Skyr smoothies are the best smoothies, especially when bought and consumed in a lagoon.

BACK on the bus to Reykjavik, once again in wet jeans, I notice that the salt makes me hair stay up in any style I put it in, and that I have a tan for the first time since 2011! I'm thrilled by the healthy nut brown colour. When we get back to the hostel, our new roommate shares Stroopwafels with us, which sets Ellie off reminiscing about the majesty of Dutch street food. To be honest, eating something which seems to be a mixture of marshmallow, caramel, and gingerbread is amazing, and I can only imagine what it's like fresh and warm. Unfortunately, our other culinary expedition of the night does not go as well. We find what looks, smells, and feels like fudge in the 'free' section of the kitchen, but when we sit down to have a bit after dinner it turns out it's ACTUALLY CHEESE??? Weird sweet fudge cheese??? Neither of us recover for the rest of the night.

BEFORE bed we chat to Mum and Mogs, and as usual my brother manages to be serious, inane, and ridiculous all at once. Ellie remarks on how she loves conversations with all of us, despite this one consisting mostly of Mohan complaining that cooking, especially carbonara, is one of the more stressful aspects of his life.