Thursday, March 12, 2009

Flam fjord - Goteborg (Pt. IV)

Note to readers: This is the fourth part of a recounting of my Grand European Tour, taken in the fall of 1999. You can read Part III here.

The train from Bergen wound through ancient glacial scars to Flam fjord. Jorge (smooth, image-conscious), Nelson (youthful idealist), and I caught the boat that would take us from Voss to Flam. We cruised along the smooth as glass water that lay between vast rock walls.  They rose on either side of the water, nearly to the clouds, crowned by evergreens like sparse, spiny hairs.

Flam fjord
We stood on the deck and ate oranges and stared at the solemn, noble landscape that had been ground out by the retreating ice. We caught glimpses of seals swimming beside us. But they were wary, shy, and not playful.

Ancient Vikings came here as the ice receded. From here they built their longboats, forged their axes and set out to plunder Celts and Saxons and Britons. They say the ice will come back some day.

Solitude in Flam
At Flam, a cold cabin served as our quarters; shared with a studious Korean medical student. We hiked upriver to an ancient church and crossed the chattering water by way of a precarious swinging bridge. A long hike surrounded by sub-Arctic beauty. Picturesque, serene Flam, nestled in her fjord. Peace to you, Flam. Peace to these dormant Vikings in their cold, beautiful home.


Next day, it was back on the train. Nelson (youthful idealist) had caught the eye of a Swedish beauty in Bergen who offered to show us around her hometown in Sweden, so we were off to Goteborg. Genuine curiosity, you understand . . . not just Nelson's libidinous aspirations. (Well, he was from Brazil, yes?)

Granite Vikings
But first, a layover in Oslo.  Oslo, again. We had time to kill so we went to see Vigeland Park with its hundreds of sculptures depicting human beings being human. Each one of those sculptures modeled in clay by Gustav Vigeland, before being carved from granite or cast in bronze by his apprentices.  Gustav Vigeland spent the last 20 years of his life working for his country, capturing the essence of the human experience as seen by these evolved Vikings in this land only recently freed (geologically speaking) from the tyrannous grip of glacial ice.
Monolith in Vigeland Park
We grabbed a bite to eat at a restaurant where we had to leave our packs by the door.  This made us anxious because we hadn't fully learned yet that Scandinavians don't steal from each other.  We couldn't understand that in Norway there is no needy underclass that must steal to survive. We were Americans from Brazil and the United States, yes?

Eventually, we made our way back to the train station and caught the train to Goteborg.  We taught Spanish and English words to some Norwegian children as we rode. Bye-bye, Norway. Hello, Sweden.

What to say about Goteborg? The Goteborg Book Fair was going full tilt when we got there. All the hotels were booked solid. But we won the sympathy of an accommodating hotel clerk who put three cots in the hotel bar and let us sleep there.  We dropped off our packs and headed out into the warm night to get a good look at all those beautiful Swedish women. "Be careful," the hotel clerk warned. "You're apt to meet a lot of drunken Swedes."

Well, he was right on that score. We entered their vast underground shopping mall where there were a dozen drunken Swedes with a single guitar, belting out boisterous sea chanties. Sounded like chanties to me, anyway. All good fun, those drunken Swedes.

We joined in the general revelry. At least Jorge (smooth, image-conscious) and I did. Nelson (youthful idealist) was too noble to get drunk. But he had a good time too: there were plenty of beautiful and friendly Swedish women, even though we never did find the girl he had met back in Bergen.

Next day we wandered around Goteborg nursing hangovers. Well, Jorge and I did. Nelson, burdened already by his unyielding morality, was spared the additional onus of a hangover.

No need for guilt, madam.
Goteborg: a clean, bustling city, safe, with good food and nice people. I sat on a park bench and talked with a Swedish woman who told me about Swedish guilt carried over from the bad old days when the Nazis had run over Sweden's sister nations, Denmark and Norway. Sweden mostly stayed out of the savagery and blood-letting.  Good-hearted Swedes still carry around guilt for not throwing themselves in front of the German blitzkrieg to be mauled or enslaved alongside their Scandinavian brethren. I understand the guilt, but no admonishment from me. No, those were frightening times.

The plan was to leave Goteborg that night for Stockholm. But we missed the train.  So, it was back to the hotel with us, to once more beg the favor of the kindly hotel clerk. One more night in the hotel bar.

Jorge, Nelson, et moi. One more day in Goteborg.
Next day:  another day of Goteborg, which we all felt was more than we wanted. Nice place, but the feet were itching. When you've got the urge to go, you gotta go. You know? So we were at the train station well ahead of departure time.

It was time to say goodbye to Jorge (smooth, image-conscious). He was off to Amsterdam to meet a friend from the States. I was learning by then, how traveling with a person can bring you close. Jorge was a good friend in less than a week. A handshake. A hug. Never to be seen again. Goodbye, Jorge. Fare thee well.

Nelson and I, on the train again. Stockholm, here we come.

To be continued...

1 comment:

thejamesranch said...

Man, these are great, Dade! I can't wait for part V of Dade's Travels! You do a terrific job of capturing the feeling of each town and countryside.