28 May, 2023

Norway's Beautiful Capital...

Oslo, the capital of Norway, is two hours flight in a north-westerly direction, from London, and into a different time zone. At 60oN, Oslo is literally two thirds of the way to the north pole (compared to Australia's southernmost city, Hobart, which is only 43oS), and we expected cooler weather, but in our four days here, it was mostly sunny and balmy, much to the delight of the locals who were visibly lapping up the warm 20oC+ conditions. However, early in the mornings it was very cool (brrr!) and on occasions a strong wind from the north blew, which brought us back to earth, weather-wise.

City sprawl into the hills as seen from The Top high-level bar. Oslo's iconic Olympic ski jump is barely visible in the distance. [4991]

Alice in Wonderland is on at the grand National Theatre in Oslo. [4924]

You know it's coming, the long daylight hours, but it still takes you by surprise, and you find it weird for a long time. Sunrise is at 04 in the morning, and sunset is not until 10 at night! What with twilight etc full darkness hardly occurs at all. It is just daylight all the time, and it takes some getting used to. No wonder hotel reviewers on the web talk about blackout curtains as well as the perennial favourite, the quality of breakfast!

Oslo is replete with statues, fountains and outdoor cafes, this one in the colonnade surrounding the city Cathedral. [4901]

The airport is a long way out of town, so we saved big money on a taxi by catching the FlyToGet highspeed train which runs from inside the arrivals hall into the city in 19 minutes every 10 minutes. That is a great service, in a fast clean train which actually had room for all our luggage. Our hotel was within walking distance (and not a single step!) of the large modern station which is Oslo S, and very kind railway staff helped us with directions.

The Akerselva river runs from the hills of Oslo, past our hotel, and into the waters of the fjord. [5120]

The very top of our hotel contained the gym. It was a workout just to get there, requiring a five storey climb! [4863]

We totally forgot that Norway is not a member of the European Union (having voted "no" in two referenda) and our EUR currency was useless there. But so far we have found that plastic is universally accepted and did not had any need for Norwegian krones (except for one merchant whose terminal had broken). However you look at it, with the exchange rate, everything is very expensive for us (Australians) here, maybe about twice or more the prices we would pay at home.

The European love of al fresco dining is alive and well in Oslo. Here, along sunny Karl Johans gate on a warm evening. [4866]

Oslo is officially a global city despite it's modest size, with an urban population of about 1.5M. We found it to be a fascinating blend of the old and the new, the old reflected in magnificent historical buildings, including military forts parts of which date back 500 years, and wonderful civic buildings several centuries younger, and the new with a magnificent public transport system (we managed to use trains, trams and buses to get around) and ultra-modern building projects in and around a part of town whose name Bjorvikameans "city bay". Here there be intensive apartment developments, but also the splendid Norwegian National Opera and Ballet as well as the (Edvard) Munch Museum / Art Gallery, home of The Scream.

The Mother by Tracey Emin (2022) in the grounds of Oslo's Munch gallery. [5088]

Construction aplenty is evident in the modern quarter of Oslo known as Bjorvika. [4959]

New high-density apartment construction in Bjorvika, Oslo makes good use of the fjord water over which they are built. [5116]

Magnificent form of Norway's parliament building in downtown Oslo. [4869]

Impressive statue and fountain near Oslo's central railway station. [4873]

To us as visitors, it seems like Oslo is a cool, calm and collected city. Everyone seems to be relaxed, and moves around in a sense of relaxation and happiness. Part of this overall feeling must be the traffic, or lack of it. Somehow, Oslo has found a way to keep traffic out of the inner city. There must be restrictions, a congestion toll or something. There are taxis and delivery trucks, trams and buses, but very few private cars. What a delight that makes it for pedestrians!

Just offshore near the city CBD, a glass sculpture island, and the DFDS ferry from Denmark. [4877]

Visitors to Oslo's startling Opera and Ballet house can walk on the roof. [4880]

Oslo lies at the northern end of the 50km long Oslofjord, one of 1700 named fjords in the country, and indeed the name fjord is derived from ancient Norwegian. So deep into a fjord offers extraordinary protection, so it is little wonder that fjords make good ports, and, in Oslo, we saw nothing but calm waters and numerous facilities designed for locals to take advantage of them, like artificial beaches, kayaking ramps, marked lap swimming zones, sauna cool-offs. The water is 10-11C in May and so we were not tempted to dive in. That said, the locals take it in their stride, and we saw many people jumping in, having jogged or ridden to the edge, or freshly heated up in one of the numerous public waterside saunas.

A large aquatic recreation area in Bjorvika, Oslo was popular with casual swimmers but only a few ducks were taking advantage of the marked lap lanes. [5019]

Young men enjoying the saunas by the harbour in Oslo, braving the 11C water temperature. [5089]

We were entertained by an orchestra's free concert in this gazebo in a park near the National Theatre, while we imbibed in an adjacent open-air cafe. [4921]

Others at the same cafe. [4923]

A bold statue of King Christian IV (1577-1648) overlooks the square in front of the grand Glasmagasinet department store. He was a popular reformer who ruled Denmark and Norway. [5063]

Norway is a consitutional monarchy with King Harald V having reigned since 1991. The grounds of the Royal Palace lie at the opposite end of Karl Johans Gate to the Oslo S railway station, and they are effectively a public park, and a popular one at that, with many people walking and relaxing there in the sunshine during our visit. During the world wars, Norway was a neutral country but this served them no good when it was forcibly occupied by Nazi Germany for 5 years. The efforts and bravery of the resultant resistance movement is memorialised in a museum in the huge grounds of the medieval Akershus Fortress quite near downtown. Construction here started in 1290AD. Wikipedia says that it "has successfully survived all sieges, primarily by Swedish forces, including those by forces led by Charles XII in 1716" although it did surrender to the Nazis in 1940.

The view from the Royal Palace looking east on Karl Johans gate in Oslo. [4918]

Unlike at least one other monarchy, the approach to the Royal Palace is in a public park and free of any restrictions until you get really close. [4911]

A guard on duty at the Royal Palace setting off to raise the bollards preventing vehicular but not pedestrian access to the grounds. [4909]

Sun-lovers enjoying beer and warmth in the grounds of the Royal Palace. [4912]

Seemingly aimed at the Aida, a cruise ship visiting Oslo, a canon guards the boundary of Akershus Fortress. [4891]

The National Monument for the Victims of (the second World) War, in the grounds of Akershus Fortress. [4884]

Detail of the old buildings in Oslo's ancient fortress. [4888]

Overlooking the city is a sculpture garden in a large park called Ekebergparken. We caught the tram up to the park and walked back into town afterwards. The garden has 45 impressive artworks scattered over a large area of forest of great diversity. We notice the curators (both here and in town) have a particular interest in the nude form as well as very modern approaches to artistic creation. One in particular was quite ephemeral, being a water misting system which operated intermittently to create a dense fog which rolled around the forested slope and valley nearby. Our visit here was most enjoyable, although we were put off by the price charged for a simple map, and to use the toilet.

Chloe (2019) by Jaume Plensa in Ekebergparken sculpture garden is like an optical illusion from any angle. [4961]

This is artwork in the Ekebergparken, Pathfinder Oslo (2016) by Fujiko Nakaya, is a misty fog lasting 15 minutes several times a day. [4971]

Adoration (by Gustav Vigeland, 1908), one of 45 artworks in the Ekeberg Park. [4944]

One day we visited the botanic garden near the suburb of Toyen. This unheralded place was very popular with locals, elderly people (us included) and families. One of the temperate houses was named after Queen Victoria, and one contained a rather sad and dusty specimen of the Australian Wollemi Pine. Maybe it was just too dry in that environment to be happy?

Tulips in Oslo's botanic garden. [5071]

Sculpted almond willows (by Tom Hare, 2014) were a highlight of the Oslo botanic garden. [5075]

Inside the glasshouse at Oslo botanic garden. [5078]

Water lilies in the Victoria House in Oslo's botanic garden. [5080]

24 May, 2023

Saint Michael's Mount...

In the months of the start of the pandemic, we stayed 4 days at the fabulous le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy which made us decide to do the same at its English counterpart, the tidal island St Michael's Mount in Cornwall, 330km away to the north-west. Given that distance, it may be surprising to consider that the two were religiously combined until war and church ructions split them up. Both share "the same tidal island characteristics and a similar conical shape, though Mont-Saint-Michel is much taller" according to Wikipedia.

St Michael's Mount at hightide, showing the flooded causeway, the castle atop the Mount and the village below. The tiny harbour is on the right. [4433]

Mid-tide shows the partially flooded granite causeway. [4447]

The unpronouceable Cornish name for St Michael's Mount means "hoar rock in woodland" which makes you think that it wasn't always a tidal island, but nowadays, at high tides, you need a boat to get to it, and at low tides, there is a granite causeway allowing access on foot. The tides here are around 4m, so it was fascinating to watch how the water rushed in and out every day, alternately flooding and drying the causeway.

The Mount illuminated in purple for a special National Trust event. The castle is normally only illuminated on Saturday nights, in an amber colour. For the coronation, it was red, white and blue, of course! [4463]

Visitors monitor the tides and visit the Mount en masse when they can use the dry causeway. [4519]

Beached boats in the Mount's tiny harbour. [4556]

View from the village to the castle on St Michael's Mount. [4559]

The older section of St Michael's Mount village cemetery. [4573]

We speculated on the presence and absence of the flag atop the castle, that it may signify whether the St Aubyn's were at home. [4577]

The Mount was a monastery from the 8th century, and the oldest current buildings, including the castle on top, are dated in the 1100's. In about 1600AD, the church abandoned the Mount which reverted to the Crown in about 1640 it was sold to the St Aubyn family who have lived here ever since! In 1954, the family gifted the Mount to the National Trust as well as funding its ongoing maintenance. The St Aubyn's still live in private quarters in the castle, but the bulk of the island is available for public visitation, so we did!

The Great Hall of the castle is named Chevy Chase, a term used in medieval times to describe the horseback raids made into disputed borderlands against the French. [4626]

A view of the Mount's gardens as seen from high on the parapets of the castle. [4637]

Inside the chapel of the castle. Sadly, the bells are now electronic. [4660]

Made from champagne corks by a family butler, a quite accurate model of the castle. [4670]

Castle battlements: that flag is not the Scottish Saltire, so not sure what it repesents. [4674]

Archaelogists in the castle's grounds looking for evidence of ancient civilisations. [4687]

In the castle garden. [4695]

Visitors boarding the boat in the Mount's harbour back to Marazion. [4704]

Directly opposite St Michael's Mount is the "ancient market village" of Marazion. We got there by a fast Great Western Railway (GWR) train from London Paddington to Penzance (no pirates in sight), a 500km journey which takes over 5 hours, an express to Plymouth, then stopping everywhere. Marazion is only 3km from Penzance. The scenery was fascinating, and both train journeys were very comfortable with trolley service for catering, and staff who went out of their way to be helpful. Our seats had power outlets and free WiFi, and indeed, our London Musings blog was finalised and published from the train. GWR offered compensation to passengers on the return journey because the arrival at Paddington was 16 minutes late! Imagine that level of customer service in Australia!

The GWR express to Paddington, awaiting us at Penzance station. [4820]

Marazion is a classic Cornish coastal town sharing the coast of Mount's Bay with the much bigger city of Penzance. At low tide, the water disappears from view leaving boats in harbours high and dry. In the village the streets are narrow and twisty (but the 20mph posted speed limit is obviously only for tourists) and the houses and shops are old and quaint and picturesque. Marazion's history is a little vague and maybe the subject of some mythology. The name implies a marketplace and Jewish origins. Evidence of ancient tin mining exists, but the town was not listed in the "great survey of much of England, the Domesday Book of 1088, and it was only chartered in the 1600's.

The boats are running but the causeway is only just flooded and many people are happy to get their feet wet. [4645]

The 1883 Marazion Institute, one of the town's notable civic buildings, with a general store next door. [4456]

Marazion's Town Hall - the clock can be seen and heard from Mount's Bay. [4506]

Traffic in Marazion, and the Chapel Rock Cafe at which we enjoyed Cornish Pasties. [4525]

The Cutty Sark is a popular restaurant, attached to a pub, in Marazion. [4723]

The state of the tide determines where the boats load and unload Mount visitors. This is the "mid-tide" loading point. [4727]

The Morazion cemetery. The leaning gravestones mostly date in the mid 1800's. [4734]

Colorful decoration in a tiny front yard of a house in Marazion. [4738]

The Kings Arms hotel in Marazion was the venue of one of our dinners. [4777]

Someone's folly maybe, a castle on a point of private land in Mount's Bay. [4783]

Union Jacks in Marazion's main street celebrate King Charles' recent coronation. [4789]

A painted rock, a modest celebration of the Coronation of King Charles III. [4798]

The Marazion town well, in use until 1870 when town water arrived. [4799]

We stayed three nights in the Godolphin hotel, easily the best located in Marazion, being closest to the Mount. The staff here were exceptional and, more than anything else, contributed to us having a most enjoyable time. The weather was equally exceptional: cold mornings were followed by warm and windless sunny days which tempted many of the rejoicing Brits to take to the high tide waters of Mount's Bay. We were tempted too, but the water itself was only 11C which is particularly character building during immersion! Also at high tide, trailer-sailer yachts take to the bay as well as kayakers, stand-up paddle-boarders etc.

Our hotel, the Godolphin, is in the peak position for viewing St Michael's Mount. [4484]

The Godolphin hotel from the beach. Craby's is the open air beer-garden, and Shuuters restaurant is upstairs. [4762]

After a most pleasant time in Marazion and Saint Michael's Mount, we taxied back to Penzance for our return to London on the GWR express train. Time allowed a brief walk around Penzance's busy High Street shopping strip.

The high street of Penzance, with Lloyd's Bank and dome on the left. [4818]

As seen from the speeding GWR train, the sprawl of housing that makes up Plymouth, the city from which Captain James Cook set out. [0427]