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Trip 6 -- Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Greenland

Message 1: Stockholm to Trondheim

Date: 5 Jul 2002 07:07:25 -0000 
From: seth@sethweinstein.com (Seth Weinstein) 
Subject: Scandinavia update #1: Stockholm to Trondheim 

And on Seth's sixth six-week trip, he learned about boats. OK, so they weren't all exactly six weeks, but now you have a tongue twister.

But first, he learned about punctuality. Those of you who know me reasonably well may recall that I have a modest appreciation for a moderate amount of punctuality. (Those of you with less appreciation may wish to skip this paragraph.) Thus I was struck more with awe and respect than with disappointment and frustration when, during my first two days in Sweden, I missed four short-distance trains by a total of about 44 seconds. They didn't throw my schedule off by much, and they weren't trains I had to make, but suffice it to say that "13:00" in a Swedish timetable means "between 13:00:00 and 13:00:10," not "between 13:00 and 13:01" as elsewhere in Europe, or "between 13:00 and 15:00" as on Amtrak, or "between 15:45 and next Tuesday" as on New Jersey Transit.

Now back to boats, which, not surprisingly, have played a vital role in water-straddling Scandinavia's economy and warfare. In Stockholm I visited Sweden's greatest naval humiliation, the Vasa, a massive warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 after a period spent at sea that wasn't much longer than the total time by which I missed all those trains. Apparently there was not enough ballast, and the ship was simply blown over by a strong wind.

As for Norwegian ships, in Oslo I viewed the magnificently well-constructed ninth-century Viking ships (two of which are still basically intact), climbed aboard the polar-exploration ship Fram (which, in 1911, enabled Roald Amundsen to be the first to reach the South Pole, and also took him and others close to the North Pole), and visited the Kon-Tiki Museum (which contains the two reed boats Thor Heyerdahl sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to prove that the ancient civilizations could have crossed these waters in the vessels they knew).

In Uppsala, near Stockholm, I was able to catch a concert of the Harvard Glee Club, my men's singing group in college, which was on tour in Scandinavia last month. There are still about five people in the group whom I know, and, indeed, it's because I ran into one of them at Stockholm's Music Museum (the serendipity of which was a direct result of my missing two airport trains by a total of 22 seconds - see why I extol punctuality?) that I got to see the concert at all, as he was able to tell me that the concert had been rescheduled for two hours earlier than I had originally been told.

The five-leg journey from Oslo to Bergen (also in Norway) is renowned for its beauty, and it lived up to its expectations. I did the first leg (Oslo to Myrdal by train) overnight, but it never really gets dark this far north during the early summer; when I awoke at 3:30, it was almost bright daylight, and the mist was rising over still lakes perfectly reflecting the glacier-capped mountains above. Arriving at 4:43 at Myrdal, a town consisting of about six houses overlooking a valley, a few other travelers and I slept it out at the train station, waiting for the second leg (Myrdal to Flåm), a train journey down a steep mountainside overlooking waterfalls, lakes, and valleys. The third leg was a ferry ride through the nearby fjords (an excellent Scrabble word to keep in mind); the fourth, a bus trip back up a mountain to Voss; and the fifth, an hour's train ride past lakes and forests to Bergen. Coming back to Oslo, I again took the overnight train, awakening midway through the journey to see the scenery I'd slept through the first time around.

Bergen itself is an exquisite city, centralized around a wharf area consisting largely of early-18th-century wooden tenement buildings; it has historically been a vital trade city where fish from the north were dried and sorted for export to the rest of Europe. It has also been ravaged by fire around 30 times, yet they kept reconstructing those wooden tenement houses - apparently it was easier to rebuild what they knew, using the materials with which they were familiar.

From Bergen, I headed south to Göteborg, Sweden, another beautiful city rooted in the fishing industry. At 7:00 yesterday morning, I observed the several-times-weekly fish auction, where the recent catch is bid on by local restaurants and fish markets. Later on, I patronized one of those markets at the "Fish Church," a moniker attributed to the building's shape. Last night, I headed north to Trondheim, Norway, where I arrived a couple of hours ago; and as the museums are beginning to open, I bid you "morna."


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