It was as if the weather sensed that our stay in Bergen was over - we had a morning train to catch and sure enough as we left our hostel, it was pouring outside. Luckily for us, the station was a close walk and we managed to escape without getting drenched as such.
With a 6 hours journey to Oslo, lying in front of us, we just thought we would catch up on our sleep. What else would one do in the train, but then the journey is always more beautiful than the destination - and there was no better example than this one. As soon as we left Bergen, the rain intensified. With nothing much to watch outside the window, and early morning laziness catching up, both of us caught up on our sleep and were woken up when a the train halted at its next stop. Somewhere near Flam, i guess. In walked a group of 3 ladies in their mid 50's i believe, and just returning from a big hike. What followed was my most beautiful experience of the Norwegian language in the complete tour. It's amazing how just two words Ja (Meaning yes) and Nei (meaning no) can be pronounced such beautifully and can express so many varied emotions, which going by the expressions were ranging from surprise, disbelief, acceptance, happiness and what not :) It was a great fun to watch the ladies chat amongst themselves, one telling the story, the other one responding with just these two words that too with the most beautiful expressions and tones that i had ever seen or heard of... that i lost track of time. Once in a while the beautiful rugged mountain side presented itself through the rain and sometimes we could see crystal clear waters of the rivers flowing towards the fjords . One such station we passed on our way - was Finse ( one of the highest rail roads in Norway)
It was afternoon when we reached Oslo, and the first thing we wanted to figure out was our way to the Air BnB that we had booked and also get a round up of what all could we do around the city. So in we went into the tourist visitor center. Contrary to the experience that i was used to, the tourist information center proved to be a delight. Given the kind of confused people that we are, we spent almost 20 minutes, trying to figure out our travel options to the air BnB, contemplating whether to take a 24 hour pass or not, whether to book an airport express shuttle ticket for our next day flight and so on so forth. But instead of getting irritated with us or shooing us away, the girl behind the counter waited on us patiently, answering each and every query of ours with a smile ( genuine one) , and suggesting us the best option to avail in each case. 30 min later and a few 100 NOK's cheaper in the wallet, we boarded another train to our Air Bnb to park our luggage and rest a bit. A quick rest later, we caught a bus to one of the famous attractions of Oslo - the Vigeland park.
Most of the European cities provide you with a 24 hour tourist pass, which allows you to visit many attractions in the city at no extra cost plus give you the added benefit of traveling free of cost on the local modes of transport ( includes ferry, buses, trams and trains) . We planned to roam maximum of the city - specially Vigeland park, then the Grunelka ( an area of Oslo famous for its restaurants and the river flowing nearby and the many bridges across it) and the new Opera house. However the gloomy weather, and the almost near empty street turned out to be a bigger disappointment for us. After experiencing Bergen in it's full glory, this seemed like someone had woken us up with ice cold water.
The Vigeland park was nice though, with numerous sculptures and spreads of green in all 4 directions it was a beautiful experience. From there we went to the downtown in order to experience the city life. However we were majorly disappointed. There was not a soul in sight on the street. The entire city seemed deserted. With heavy hearts we went to the opera house in search of some people and more views. However this too proved to be a kind of disappointment. Ofcourse there were people there but except for walking on the roof of the opera house ( where some enthusiastic people were cycling too ) there seemed nothing much to do over there.
Finally we decided to head towards Grunelka - the most happening part of the town, as the tourist guide book referred to it. However that turned out to be a bigger surprise. Or may be we didn't reach the right part of it. Everything seemed low key, quiet and most of it closed. With such a drab evening out which had dampened our spirits, we were in desperate need of good food to pep up ourselves. Despite our experience with expensive Indian cuisine in Bergen, we felt we needed a taste of home to settle down our nerves.
After much searching we finally found a good place near our stay, run by a Pakistani family. Over dinner we got talking to the owner, asking him how does the restaurant business run in Norway. Coz we don't see many customers and how does a business thrive. He told us that his grandfather had come down from Lahore and set up a restaurant here. Now he owned 3 restaurants in the town and each one was more successful than the previous one. He also mentioned that even though they ended up paying close to 50% in taxes, there was still ample scope for business to thrive and be profitable. So after a scrumptions biryani and some kebabs later, we retired to our home across the road and enjoyed watching Indiana Jones.
I guess this was our first night in the entire tour where we were in so early and had to spend some time watching TV. I doubt if we ever noticed whether we had a tv in the room in the rest of the tour. Monday morning we woke up pretty late by our tour standards only to notice that it was raining outside. So we decided to sleep in a bit more. Finally around noon we decided to step out and give Oslo another chance to redeem itself.
Since I was not in a mood for museums and Aniket had another day to explore the same, we decided to give the islands around Oslo a chance. So we took a bus ride to the Jetty and used our 24 hour pass to latch on to the ferry that takes us across the islands. Now Oslo has around 7 islands surrounding it and there are multiple ferries which dock in and dock out at specific time intervals on each islands. These islands are basically full of summer houses for the residents of Oslo who wish to get out of the city life. Since we had gone in September, almost 90% of them were unoccupied, the cafe's were closed - in short nothing much to do on the islands. Before we started we realized that our 24 hour pass would expire in an hour's time and we would have to renew it. However having seen Norway's brilliant transport system till now we were sure that we would definitely find a ticketing house / pass renewal on the ferry or on one of the islands. So keeping complete faith in the system we boarded our ferry to Hovedoya. This is the closest island to the city center and consists of beautiful trails, some ruins of a monastery and a couple of places that houses old canons and gun powder depots. We were done with the hike around the island in around 45 minutes and we decided to head back to the pier and renew our ticket. However we were in for a surprise. There was no place we could do that. So when the ferry docked in to pick us up, we approached the captain - an Amish lady, who spent the summers sailing in Norway and headed back to Netherlands in the winters, and explained her our problem. We told her that we had boarded the ferry assuming there would be a renewal place in one of the islands or the ferry. Also that our pass would expire probably in the next 30 odd minutes. We asked her if there was a way if we could renew it and she just smiled at us as she dropped us at Lindoya island and said, we will see when we get back. On the island we tried desperately to renew the ticket online but we didn't have any luck. Finally we decided to leave everything to fate and proceeded to explore the island. Lindoya is a small island with 300 odd summer cottages all colored in red, yellow and green. These cottages against the backdrop of the ocean and the green nature reserves form a pretty sight for the eyes. A quick tour across the now deserted island, and we circled back to the pier hoping for the same boat to pick us up. When we boarded the ferry, it was the same Amish captain and her blue haired sailor boy who welcomed us aboard.
We once again explained her our situation. Asking her if we could purchase our ticket back to the main land instead of visiting the other islands. She just smiled at us and waived off the ferry ride to the mainland. While on the ferry to mainland she explained that how Norway defines colors for the houses on these islands, how she comes across tourists from multiple countries and a few stories about her home town which happened to be near Giethoorn. ( She seemed really surprised about the fact that I had visited the place and was happy when I showed her a few photographs of the same. ) When we docked back at the mainland, we offered once again to pay for the ferry ride,but she refused and instead wished us a bon voyage and said she hoped that we would enjoy our last day in Oslo :) We thanked them both, and then proceeded to the city. The first thing we did was renewed our passes so that we could easily travel for the rest of the evening.
Next stop was W. B Samson , one of the famous coffee shop's in Oslo and the one that served one of the most delicious Hot Chocolate I have ever tasted. While sipping on the hot chocolate, we watched a street artist perform his tricks with the ball. He definitely seemed to have a lot of skill but, was more interested in talking to the crowd than performing his tricks :)
Oslo seemed in a mode to redeem itself, and we could see a decent amount of crowd on the streets. Perhaps we had found the right place to be in, or may be it was just a regular Monday in Oslo, whatever it was, it felt much much better than the drab Sunday that we had experienced there.
We strolled along the main street towards the Royal Palace, watched the change of Guards ceremony and saw enthusiastic tourists take a picture with the guards.
On the way back to the main street, we came across a fountain. Someone had emptied a lot of soap in the fountain on purpose and the result was a fountain full of foam and bubbles in the middle of the city. Young children and old people alike, stopped by to enjoy the sight. Some just stood and watched, some soaked themselves in it, some of them blew away bubbles while some draped them around their heads. One little girl along with her dad had a gala time playing with the bubbles catching them every time the wind blew them away. It proved to be one of the best sights of the evening.
On the way we picked up dinner at Risbowl, a thai food joint. It was there that Aniket introduced me to the famous Chorusa sauce, and I became an instant fan of the hot n spicy sauce :)
Back at the Air BnB, it was time to pack the bags for the last time, say good bye and prepare for the journey back home. Next day morning I was on my way to catch my flight back to Frankfurt from where I was supposed to fly back home.
The land of tunnels, the land of the wild, the country of runners! - The wilderness, the squidgy turf beneath the feet, the endless mountains, the cascading falls, the cozy villages scattered in the countryside, the weathered barns beside the roads, log cabins in the hills, crystal clear waters running down, the breathtaking fjords and endless meadows, the land of the midnight Sun, and the nights that gleamed with Northern Lights, the perfect solitude for the lonely soul and the charm of cities like Bergen for those who longed company - Norway left me wanting for more... and I made a promise to come back some day!!