Ottering in Oslo

 

As I mentioned in last week’s post, we were supposed to be flown from London to Oslo by Ryanair last Saturday. Needless to say that was €300 down the toilet and I won’t be making that mistake again.

 

The vile Irishman might have chosen to indirectly punish us even further, as our self-funded replacement flight on Norwegian was rammed with Northern Ireland football supporters flying to the World Cup qualifier (I think that’s what it was). Charming they might be, but Irish footie supporters are noisy, boisterous and seemingly roaring drunk their every waking moment.

 

The game was on Sunday evening, with Ireland losing 1-0.

 

I was dimly aware – our first floor hotel room window over the hotel’s reception area actually opened – of loud conversations, chants of “Who are you?” and endless billows of cigarette smoke wafting into our room right through the night. At around 08:00 on Monday morning, I went down to buy coffee and found myself in the queue behind the archetypical red-headed Irishman who was attempting to buy beer from the deli/snack bar counter in the hotel. Meeting with an incredulous “But it’s only eight o’clock,” he responded with a tremulous “…it’s a national emergency,” but still he couldn’t thaw the heart of the Nordic lass on the till.

 

Things around here have quieted a lot since they took their hangovers off to the airport.

 

 

 

 

 

So, Oslo. As a friend pointed out recently, Lisbon is a great city to photograph. In my opinion, so are Paris, Tokyo and to a lesser extent, Singapore and Copenhagen.

 

Oslo does not make the easy/fun/good list. It is (Nordic) beautiful, serene, stylish after a fashion, clean and populated by the most helpful locals, but photogenic it doesn’t appear to be. Then, I expected one of the Viking, Kon Tiki or Munch museums to offer some photo opportunities, but that wasn’t to be either.

 

Oslo’s foodie market at Mathallen offered a few photo opportunities, but no more than similar markets in Madrid, Sydney’s fish market, or Venice to name a very few.

 

The city is basking in late autumn light and clearly prepping for winter. Rain threatens and I wonder whether a visit in (maybe) July or even January might have been a better option.

 

 

 

 

 

Still, it’s a really interesting city. Vigeland’s sculptures, Munch’s works, Ibsen’s plays and the work of the Nobel Institute make a fine backdrop to this modern and hugely relaxed society. I’ve enjoyed it, although rushing back doesn’t seem to be on the agenda.

 

Early on Thursday, we decamped for a concessional (on my part, as I hate them) guided tour* from Oslo to Myrdal, on to the Flåm (inelegantly pronounced Flom) railway to descend 866m to sea level in just 20 kilometres, at gradients as steep as 1:18 – tough for a road, but amazing for a regular rail line, with no funicular assistance.

 

From Flåm, we enjoyed a launch ride along two spectacular fjords to Gudvangen and from there, a bus (complete with singing driver) to Voss and finally another train ride into Bergen, arriving on time, moments before 20:00.

 

 

 

It had been drizzing most of the day, but was pishing down by then and a taxi seemed like an excellent idea. Having attempted to walk the route this morning (Friday), I’d have to say that last evening’s decision was beyond perfect as even with the help of Mr Google’s maps, we got took wrong turnings aplenty and would doubtless have found our hotel, but not before some terminal matrimonial damage had been done…

 

* Guided tour? Actually not. Norway in a Nutshell was brilliantly organised, but no guide and in truth, one was not needed.

 

And so, Friday dawned in Bergen. The weather forecast is predicting at least another week of this downpour and our foray to see whether we should attempt a walk to the station tomorrow for our train back to Oslo got us so wet that we’ve spent the last couple of hours back in our hotel room, drying out.

 

 

 

 

As we were returning to Oslo, we’d packed little more than an overnight change of clothes and stored our suitcases in our hotel’s storeroom. Given the number, variety and busy schedules of the transport we used, that turned out to be an excellent plan. Dragging luggage over that obstacle course could doubtless have done either one or both of us some serious damage.

 

Next week; Sweden.

Travelling – the London Leg

 

Photo giant, Pete Turner’s death a couple of weeks ago both reminded and encouraged me to look at what I was/am shooting a bit differently. I’m no lover of super saturated colours, but a little tweaking never hurt anyone. Right?

 

Plus, I find the Fuji cameras I prefer when travelling produce spectacular colour, especially when pushed a little.

 

So, a week in London en famille, celebrating a milestone birthday with little else in the way of social commitments beyond a daily family lunch or evening meal, I got lots of time to wander, explore and play.

 

For the photographically minded, all these images were shot with either the tiny Fuji X100F or X-Pro2 and 56mm f1.2. I can’t possibly imagine why I told myself I needed to pack and carry four other lenses 🙁

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Incoming!

 

Our couple of days in Lusaka last weekend brought me face-to-face with many readers of this blog, all of whom nagged at me because I hadn’t posted anything for months.

 

Almost. Eleven. Months. The last post was from Tokyo, early in our extended stay en route home from the US in November 2016. I’d been unwell with something minor that I just couldn’t shake off. Di seemed fine, but it was really only long after we got home that both of us really understood what had happened.

 

By then it was January. We’d been home since late in November, when we put our cases down and sagged into our respective chairs and stared at the Southern Atlantic breaking on the rocks outside.

 

December and Christmas passed, as did New Year. With the exception of a Christmas Day lunch invitation from some friendly neighbours, we didn’t move and the days passed in a gentle blur. Eventually, time being what it is, we both became aware that we were mending and beginning to think of resuming our more usual and active lives.

 

So, what ailed us?

 

That’s a longer story.

 

Earlier in 2016, we’d made our annual trip east and spent a week in our favourite Singapore and then travelled on to Penang. It was poor planning on my part – the hottest time of year with the daily temperatures hovering around 39C. And, at first, we were both puzzled about how hot and bothered we were – more than the extra impact of a heatwave and our previous experience would have made us believe.

 

Home again, the realisation dawned that the heat was one critical factor, but more crucially, age was catching up with us. The walk across the city to sip icy beer in the Raffles open air bar, or eat in Little India were no longer quite as realistic as they had once been and now, taxis needed to be factored into our plans as well.

 

And so it was in Japan. After a surprisingly stressful month in the US, at turns enjoying and then avoiding the traffic, we’d arrived in Tokyo, blissfully unaware of just how tired we were. Connecting the dots; Singapore and Penang, the US and Japan, age and travel. Without wanting to sound overly melodramatic, we’d just been on the edge of our stamina reserves without really realising it.

 

By late January, we were up and about again, but hard learned knowledge is useful knowledge and our travel plans have taken on a slightly less busy feel, with a more relaxed approach to both our days and our itineraries.

 

This morning (Friday), we’re zipping suitcases and checking documentation, prepping for the airport late this afternoon, Dubai at dawn tomorrow and London by lunch time. We’re off to celebrate Mrs P’s most recent 21st, with Laura and hubby Zach, Julian and girlfriend, Amy.

 

A relaxed week in London, then with our without Ryanair’s assistance – more of this later – we’re off to Oslo and Stockholm, me filling a promise to my wife (and world’s best travelling companion) to see some of Scandinavia.

 

Why not join us?

 

One last thing; make comments as you wish – please use the section below, rather than e-mail. Thanks.

Tokyo colour

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Hotel-bound. Crocked.

 

I’m not feeling too sharp today, so I’m contenting myself with a feet-up (literally) day off, some editing and watching South Africa and Australia battle it out in Perth, via Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball coverage.

 

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I’ve been shooting lots of Tokyo-ites in black and white since arriving, but this morning, with time on my hands, started experimenting with colour too – some serious colour hacking.

 

I don’t think they’re meant to be taken too seriously. Or are they?

 

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Any thoughts? Use the comments section at the bottom of the page please.

 

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Route 66 – 3 – been there, done that

Journey's end; Santa Monica Pier

Journey’s end; Santa Monica Pier

 

Wednesday – Albuquerque NM
Thursday – Albuquerque NM to Flagstaff AZ
Friday – Flagstaff AZ
Saturday – Flagstaff AZ to Page AZ
Sunday – Page AZ
Monday – Page AZ
Tuesday – Page AZ to Tusayan AZ (Grand Canyon)
Wednesday – Tusayan AZ (Grand Canyon)
Thursday – Tusayan AZ (Grand Canyon) to Kingman AZ
Friday – Kingman AZ to Santa Monica CA

 

It’s done and I have a curious sense of modern-day achievement. We arrived in Los Angeles mid-afternoon Friday and now have a couple of days to chill before the next leg of our trip.

 

We’ve done the obligatory walk (no cars permitted) along the surprisingly grubby pier at Santa Monica to photograph the official end-of-the-road signage. That’s more than 3000 miles or 5000km if you’re metricated. The extra mileage over the published distance between Chicago and Santa Monica was our five days in Page and the Grand Canyon National Park.

 

After that, we drove back south, picking up 66 just outside Flagstaff and re-started our journey west.

 

I’m now ahead of myself. Let me re-wind a bit.

 

Abandoned, Newkirk NM

Abandoned, Newkirk NM

 

Abandoned, Newkirk NM

Abandoned, Newkirk NM

 

Maybelle's Diner, Algodones

Maybelle’s Diner, Algodones

 

Unexpected Ford Anglia, Gallup

Unexpected Ford Anglia, Gallup

 

It had been a pleasant few days, save the haul from Albuquerque to Flagstaff which turned out be much longer than we’d anticipated; 07:15 to 16:00 in the car. Nonetheless, it’s been as interesting as the mounting number of miles (kilometres) building-up behind us.

 

We’re both loving every revolution of the Nissan’s tyres, but have still to come to terms with the book/satnav/maps navigation this trip requires. I doubt we could have prepared much better, but there are still many Route 66 options that escape us – finding the way onto these long-abandoned tarmacadamed strips is easy. Getting back into civilisation at the end of the detour isn’t.

 

‘nuff said?

 

Wilkerson's, Newkirk NM

Wilkerson’s, Newkirk NM

 

Near Algodones

Near Algodones

 

Whiting Bros, Acoma

Whiting Bros, Acoma

 

Amtrak, Flagstaff AZ

Amtrak, Flagstaff AZ

 

Albuquerque isn’t a great cultural centre, despite boasting a Holocaust museum, silently protesting against genocide and bullying. We gorged ourselves on BBQ (twice) and moved on, leaving the city’s semi-faux art deco in our rearview mirror without too much sadness.

 

En route, the now standard fare of Interstate-caused desolation and abandonment continued, with lots to see and little to comment on. A few towns live on, fighting to survive, the rest gave up long ago, the deserted diners, motels and homes testament to a bygone era.

 

Flagstaff. Tourist haven during the spring/summer/autumn as holidaymakers and Route 66-ers flock the hotels and streets. Busy too in the winter as the ski set arrive. It’s funky and we’ve enjoyed our 36 hours here, eating pizza and steaks and drinking seriously good craft ales. Tomorrow, we leave 66 for a few days to visit Page and the Grand Canyon.

 

Lone drinkers, Flagstaff AZ

Lone drinkers, Flagstaff AZ

 

Addicted to Route 66, Williams AZ

Addicted to Route 66, Williams AZ

 

No trespassing, Crookton AZ

No trespassing, Crookton AZ

 

Order entrance - Sno Cap, Seligman AZ

Order entrance – Sno Cap, Seligman AZ

 

Road thoughts

 

Road kill is everywhere on 66, mainly racoons and other small furry creatures and occasional large black carrion crows. Yesterday, a driver in front of me mowed down what was clearly a family cat that had (foolishly) ventured onto the road. I know that it can be fatal to swerve to avoid an animal, but seeing something like that is a really bad way to start your day…

 

I’m just sayin’ but after just a few days, I’m tending to the opinion that American drivers are not very good at dipping their headlights for oncoming traffic.

 

Altitude. A hassle. Despite living in Jozi (Johannesburg) a mile high city for three decades, the altitude in Santa Fé, Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon region has been a problem, with shortage of breath the least of our concerns.

 

Road food – to quote Peter Drucker, this was a blinding flash the obvious. There we were looking forward to BBQ, fajitas and breakfast burritos in Triple-D style food joints. What neither of us had really thought through was that this is the food everyone eats, everywhere. Worth mentioning in this regard is Delgadillo’s Snow Cap in Seligman, Arizona.

 

In addition to a startlingly good cheeseburger, the Snow Cap delivers a display of low humour and camp that that is probably unequalled anywhere. Even the toilets rest rooms are a joke. Plus, there’s a goodly selection of dead and rusting cars around the property to grab the attention of the travelling photographer.

 

If one small town can keep their small section of Route 66 alive, how come so many others can’t?

 

Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff AZ

Hotel Monte Vista, Flagstaff AZ

 

Park anywhere, Ash Fork AZ

Park anywhere, Ash Fork AZ

 

Giant trains all along the route

Giant trains all along the route

 

Sno Cap, Seligman AZ

Sno Cap, Seligman AZ

 

As the line runs along Route 66 almost end-to-end, you’ll soon discover that America’s freight trains are startlingly long, especially when the rail crossing barriers come down and you have to wait while a kilometre long train of double-high stacked containers eases past. My guess is that on each one, there is a total mass upwards of 15,000 tonnes of freight on the move, let alone the 3 or 4 or 5 huge diesel locomotives hauling this serpentine monster along. It’s quite a spectacle and every train clearly saves a small mountain of cash over road transportation.

 

And, as if that wasn’t enough and your hotel is close to the railway – most are – you’ll know very quickly that these east-west and west-east behemoths run around the clock, horns blaring a warning at every crossing and often with just a few minutes between trains in either direction. Light sleepers are warned.

 

Joke(?) toilets, Seligman AZ

Joke(?) toilets, Seligman AZ

 

Dead car - Seligman AZ

Dead car – Seligman AZ

 

Sheriff's line

Sheriff’s line

 

Yet another dead car, Hackberry AZ

Yet another dead car, Hackberry AZ

 

Our W-E trip across Canada a couple of years ago and this E-W journey has convinced me that there is no perfect type of car to hire for these distances. The Toyota Yaris we left Chicago in and the Nissan Versa we arrived in LA driving are ideal; comfortable, fuel efficient and reasonably well appointed. Most cars now seem to have at least one USB port, to facilitate an iPhone, which in our case, also doubles as a satnav and a music player – all playing through the car’s audio system. A bigger car might have a boot big enough to have avoided a suitcase on the back seat, or softer suspension, but still not enough to justify the extra daily cost of hire.

 

If you’re arriving from overseas, buy a local SIM card for your phone. If you have an old phone (I use a several year old iPhone 4), even better. This will give you a local phone number – hotels and Web site wi-fi logins often confirm access via an SMS/text message – and data access for Apple’s Maps, or Google’s Maps navigation apps. I bought an AT&T card in Chicago which gave us phone, texts and unlimited data for a month for $60. Not exactly a bargain, but invaluable as it got us un-lost on many occasions.

 

Henry F shudders - Seligman AZ

Henry F shudders – Seligman AZ

 

Roadkill café - Seligman AZ

Roadkill café – Seligman AZ

 

Mercury, Hackberry AZ

Mercury, Hackberry AZ

 

Amboy school

Amboy school

 

The advertised wi-fi rarely works as advertised in any hotel, motel, or anywhere. So, if you’re planning a driving day-end orgy of e-mail, Web trawling and catching-up, don’t hold your breath. Most hotels make an effort and some succeed, others seem to think it’s OK for you to sit on your room’s veranda in the rain, or by the pool to get anywhere near a decent signal. The Marriott in Tusayan has a wi-fi that simply would not accept my MacBook Pro, despite a half hour long (toll free thankfully) call to their support team, somewhere in the mid-west. Admittedly, the whole region is bereft of services – even our AT&T SIM failed to connect – and when it does work, the whole of Tusayan’s wi-fi is iffy at best.

 

If you are thinking your Route 66 adventure will be a photographic overload, stop now. The photo ops are really few and far between. Leaving Chicago, there was quite a lot to see and shoot, but as the miles passed, the scenery changed and as the scrub of Texas gave way to New Mexico and Arizona’s semi-desert, the photo ops almost dried up completely.

 

Roy's, Amboy AZ

Roy’s, Amboy AZ

 

Sunrise, Marina del Rey CA

Sunrise, Marina del Rey CA

 

California morning

California morning

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

 

By then Route 66 had become about a journey through Middle America, much of which can’t be captured, rather experienced. We have had an extraordinarily good time, seen many, many things we’ve never seen before. We’ve spoken to all kinds of folk and met nothing but kindness, interest and politeness.

 

We’ve slept in a great number of hotel/motel beds and without fear of contradiction, can say that they have all been comfortable, clean and in rooms that are way up there by international standards. And, the James Dean themed room in our Kingman motel might not shake a stick at the Hilton Garden Inn we’re in Marina del Rey, but its wonderfully wacky pretensions more than made up for it.

 

Marina del Rey CA

Marina del Rey CA

 

Woody, Venice Beach

Woody, Venice Beach

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

 

Was the time we allocated for the drive enough? Yes. I really don’t think you could do justice as a road trip to try and cover that distance in less. On many occasions other obvious 66-ers have hurtled past us, their hats, t-shirts and decals clearly visible, only for us to briefly catch up with them at the next town, stop or view site. Getting out of the car, we’d then see them haring off to make the next town, stop or overnight. That’s no way to travel – if you don’t have enough time to do it properly, bucket list it until you do.

 

Could we have spent more time on the road? No doubt – in fact, I often found myself pondering whether a small Winnebago (yes they do exist) might not have been a better idea. Changing hotels and motels for a camp site would require a different planning methodology and going anywhere away from our parked “home” might have been problematic without a car, but yes, I’d certainly consider it.

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach

 

"I'm telling you dude", Venice Beach

“I’m telling you dude”, Venice Beach

 

Tomorrow (Monday), we fly west, having chosen to head home via Japan. It’s an early start (05:00) to hopefully avoid LA’s traffic, return the hire car, check in and navigate the inevitable security checks by our 10:00 take off time.

 

Favourite shot; near McLean

Favourite shot; near McLean

 

Journey's end; Santa Monica Pier

Journey’s end; Santa Monica Pier

 

Albuquerque shadows

Albuquerque shadows

 

Would I do it again? Absolutely. With the knowledge I’ve gained on this trip, I wouldn’t change much except to be a little better prepared re communications and to try and resolve the navigational issues that plagued us all the way from Chicago to LA.

 

Mrs P? Not. Too stressful on the Interstates with giant trucks seemingly unaware and impervious to our tiny Nissan and of course, the issue of poor directions in so many places making navigation a university-level challenge the whole way.

 

Still, we never thought it would be easy – wouldn’t be worth doing if it was.