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31 July 2005

soaking in the emptiness

a full day of the krumlov. a raining day, unforunately, but only a light raining day that would not stop us. first item of business: reserve a room in luhacovice where we would be traveling the next day. we found a different payphone with working buttons and called the first pension listed in our guidebook. i'd studied a few of the czech phrases in the book but i definitely wasn't prepared for any type of conversation. i needed to find someone who spoke english. i was ready with the pronunciation when a woman answered the phone.

'dobry den.'

'dobry den. mluvite anglicky?' [good day. do you speak english?]

'ne.' [uh oh.]

'mluvi nekdo anglicky? [does anyone here speak english?]

'ne. ne anglicky.' [additional sentences in czech. hmm, i wasn't prepared for this. red alert. abort the mission.]

'prominte. nerozomim cesky. dekuji.' [i'm sorry. i don't understand czech. thank you.]

we guessed that we'd experience the same situation when calling other hotels in luhacovice, a very small spa town on the east side of the country. almost everyone with a public facing job in prague was able to speak at least a little english; not the case in smaller towns in the czech republic. we needed to find someone to help us. sarah had already made friends with a girl in the tourist information office when she was researching transport options to luhacovice. we walked over and asked if she would be willing to call the number we'd just called and make a reservation for us in luhacovice. they obliged and reservations were made. [thank you so much, infocentrum in cesky krumlov!]

sarah secured an audioguide for the city and we went out to explore. the rain was off and on, misting, but wasn't bothering us. the guide was excellent and filled with interesting stories and as we followed the map we learned a lot about the city [of course, much of that knowledge, once bright has now dimmed.] the town hall and the marian plague column, erected in the town square in 1716 to commemorate those who died by the plague, a coat of arms of the czech republic and of cesky krumlov, the schwarzenberg family coat of arms (featuring a raven plucking the eye out of the severed head of a turkish enemy soldier), the rosenberg family coat of arms (featuring the five petalled rose, a symbol which can be seen throughout the city), the church of st. vitus. we weren't able to complete the entire tour by the time we needed to return the audioguide; we contemplated extended the time but decided we wanted to see other things. ice cream, up to the castle, passing a pen with live bears in it [rain prevented pictures] and through a beautiful garden. the hostel had a laundry service; over to give them our clothes, and then back out. a great memorable dinner in the town square with czech zon cola [http://www.zon.cz], very tasty; sarah had garlic soup and an eggenberg [http://www.eggenberg.cz], the oldest beer in the czech republic.

eventually the rain was gone and darkness had come; we wandered the streets, soaking in the emptiness and beauty of the city at night, taking photographs. back to the town square where i experimented with exposure times as cars carried back in time drove the cobblestone pestering the pedestrians. such a wonderful night. we returned to the hostel; laundry wasn't finished until around 0200. we set our alarm; we'd be catching a bus to luhacovice the next day at 0730.

posted by paul at Sun 31 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

30 July 2005

eye contact during a dramatic pause

happy birthday mom!!

sarah and i would be leaving prague today to travel to cesky krumlov, a small medieval town in the czech republic, three hours south by bus. we checked out of our hostel, took the metro to the florenc stop, and walked to the bus station (the same station we'd visited two days before when traveling to terezin). two tickets secured, one way to cesky krumlov. breakfast at the restaurant in which we'd eaten previously, a quick internet stop to send a happy birthday greeting to my mom, and then back to the bus station. while we waited at the bus stand, it became obvious that cesky krumlov was a popular traveller destination. lots of giant backpacks. [ah, backpacks. short digression here:

99% of the prague sidewalks on which we walked are comprised of small white or gray stone cubes arranged in geometric patterns (if you look closely at this picture, you'll see that each of the large checkerboard squares on the left side of the picture is composed of 100 smaller stone squares; the small checkerboard squares on the right are each composed of 25 smaller stone squares. the checkerboard pattern is just one of the various white and gray patterns throughout the city. i've seen construction workers laying the cubes; it looks like time consuming work.

while we were in miami back in march, sarah purchased a rolling suitcase. when we talked on the phone before her arrival in prague, she asked me if i thought the rolling suitcase would be all right for her trip to europe; i said yes, it would be perfect. wrong. rolling suitcases and small stone cube sidewalks do not mix well, nor do rolling suitcases and large cobblestone streets. not only did the uneven surface make it more difficult to pull the suitcase, but the plastic wheels rolling over the stones created quite a racket. there would be no stealth mode for us until we arrived in cesky krumlov and had checked into our hostel. end digression. back to the florenc bus station... ]

we had learned from our terezin bus experience that the buses generally pull right up to the sign listing the bus departure and arrival times. passengers had the choice of purchasing a ticket beforehand at the ticket counters in the station or purchasing a ticket directly from the driver; those who had already purchased a ticket were permitted to board before those who need to purchase a ticket from the driver. [why everyone wouldn't just buy a ticket beforehand escaped us... short of time, perhaps?] on this trip, we had all of our baggage with us and would need to stow it in the bus cargo holds. as more and more passengers arrived at the bus stand, we began to get nervous. it appeared that the demand for seats far exceeded the supply. we stood directly in front of the sign, ready for action. sarah would be the first onboard and would secure the seats; i'd store our baggage and then join her.

bus arrives, early. i looked at the number on the bus and consulted our tickets. this wasn't our bus. over the next 10 minutes approximately 30 people asked the driver if he was going to cesky krumlov... by person #10 he'd worked up an evil glare. a woman walked up to us and asked if we knew where the bus was going. i replied 'not to cesky krumlov.' she smiled and said thanks. wow, we were about to travel to one of the czech republic's premiere hotspots.

more waiting. the bus in front of us didn't look like it would be departing any time soon and our bus was scheduled to depart in a few minutes. 'hmm, this doesn't look good...' exactly. our bus pulled in _behind_ the standing bus, right next to the mob of passengers who had arrived at the stand only a few minutes before. we now found ourselves at the _back_ of the line. chaos ensued as everyone rushed to stash their bags in the cargo hold, taking no time to pack the bags in properly so that there would be enough room for everyone's. as expected, by the time the dust had settled and i got close to the cargo hold, there was no room left.

i could see through the spaces between the bags that the hold stretched the width of the bus and that there was room on the far side... and that the cargo door on that side was closed. walked around and tried it: locked. sarah had already made it onboard and was watching my desperation through the window. it looked like all of the passengers who had already purchased tickets were already onboard and that the driver was beginning to sell tickets to the others. i needed to get the baggage stowed and get onboard before my seat was sold. i walked up to the front of the bus and squeezed through the line to ask the driver to open the cargo hold door on the other side of the bus. [for some reason this interaction sticks in my mind. it just struck me as very amusing: ] after he listened patiently and intently to my request, the driver looked directly at me, unflinching, and responded: 'you speak english...' [he maintained eye contact during a dramatic pause before he continued, shaking his head from side to side]... 'i don't.' ha! okay then. it appeared i'd need to be creative. as luck would have it, another passenger had somehow managed to get the far cargo door open; i rushed over and threw our bags in. squeezed through the ticketless line and made it to my seat, sweat dripping down my face. gripped sarah's hand. made it.

three hours later we arrived in the little medieval town. rolling wheels and cobblestones, we clunked into the town square. to prevent unnecessary clunking throughout the town, sarah waited in the square while i located our hostel. i carried her bag the rest of the way.

'i'm sorry, you were scheduled to arrive at 2pm and when you didn't arrive on time, we gave your room away.'

[l class missiles: armed. lock ons: armed. stand by for orders.] 'do you have another room available?'

'yes, but it's a dorm room.'

sarah and i discussed and decided to make an attempt to find another hostel, but after failing to navigate a cesky krumlov payphone with a broken '7' button, we decided to take the dorm room. the next night we'd have a private. met english chris and american adam and will in the snail hostel dorm; bags stored. OUT.

the little town was postcard picture perfect, the winding vtava river looping through the center, the tall tower of the castle set against the forboding sky, truly beautiful. we understood exactly why it was such a popular destination. we walked around, exploring the narrow stone streets, and had some dinner at a restaurant by the river. while we were eating, a massive thunderstorm closed in with fierce lightning and heavy soaking rain. we ran back to the hostel. loud guitars were erupting from a basement bar beneath the hostel [the snail bar, as it were]; we descended to watch the last few songs of a czech hardcore band's set. between song banter in czech; vocals in english. the lyrics weren't amazing, but the music was damned good and the singer had a powerful voice; good mix. upstairs to sleep.

posted by paul at Sat 30 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

29 July 2005

other ways to conquer the armies

IMG_8723.jpg

sarah and i got up early with ambitious plans. today we would sack the prague castle, capture tickets and photographs, plunder all there was to see. we would attack the tourista troops, take no prisoners, show no mercy. we would climb the tower of the cathedral and claim the city of prague as our own. once victorious, we would celebrate by taking a day trip to kutna hora in the early afternoon. it was time to attack.

my compatriot and i were outfitted for tourista combat. she carried guide books and i carried electronic surveillance equipment; we carried superior gear, of that we were sure. we made a stealthy entry into the old town using public transportation and arrived a little before 0900. fortunately, the enemy had not destroyed the stone bridge [digression ### below]; we crossed with little resistance, in fact, the least resistance we had encountered since arriving in the city several days prior. apparently the enemy was not expecting us this early; we obviously had the advantage. despite the early hour, the sun had a firm grasp on the day and was beginning to sap our energy. the long uphill climb made matters worse, but we persisted and made it to the top by 0922, still undetected. we were both pleased to see that the enemy had not yet arrived. while energy reserves were low, morale was high. we pressed on.

the main entrance to the castle was guarded by but two armed men wearing light blue uniforms. bah! we scoped the area quickly and decide to attack straight on, straight in. we walked deliberately to the gate, ready to break out the camera and shoot should the need arise. as we closed in, it became obvious the guards were paralyzed by fear; sensing they were outclassed, out... fitted [?], out-outfitted [?]... er, and outdressed (did i mention their light blue uniforms [intelligence had told us that these uniforms were designed by the costume designer for the film 'amadeus']), they moved not one inch to stop us. we breached the gate and soon after the first courtyard.

in the second courtyard, it appeared the alarm had been raised. there was a state of confusion as small groups of touristas wandered aimlessly looking for their commanding officers. we quickly consulted our charts and realized we needed additional intelligence; it took little to 'convince' a young castle guard to give us the location of the ticket booth. we dashed out and through the second courtyard, making it through unscathed. the last fifteen minutes had been a blur. sarah and i didn't know how we had gotten to this point without opposition; we just knew we had made it and hoped that we could complete the mission without incident. unfortunately, that was not to be the case. we stood in front of the massive st. vitus cathedral, pausing to survey the scene.

a large mass of troops had gathered at the entrance to the cathedral. the tourista armies were assembling quickly, officers waving their brightly colored standards in the air and shouting over their portable pa systems. we saw umbrellas... canes with dangling ribbons... pinwheels which spun in the wind... long sticks with paper flags. the officers raised their standards and the troops fell obediently in line like flocks of sheep. castle guards were posted at the entrance to the cathedral and at a nearby ticket stand. clearly we had met our match. the sun beat down upon us as we looked at the long line of touristas winding around the counter at the ticket stand. morale was low. we decided to find cover and rethink the plan.

i proposed conducting a mission to seize all of the officers' standards. without the umbrellas and twirling pinwheels to lead the way, the armies would quickly fall apart. the officers would still have their portable pa systems to give orders, but i was confident that i could reconfigure my gps receiver to jam their systems. sarah didn't like the idea and consulted the guide books while i thought about other ways to conquer the armies. i proposed conducting only an external survey of the cathedral until we could regroup and devise a plan to enter without resistance. ultimately, timing dictated that the mission was completed today; we needed to proceed with the original plan despite the masses of touristas. we summoned up our energy and ran to the ticket office, each of us completing not one but two rambo rolls in the process to evade the enemy.

much commotion in the ticket office. we saw two cashiers and three distinct lines leading to them. a man in charge of the audioguides continuously yelled out 'i have only audiogeeds. no tickets. only audiogeeds.' a clear sign above his post would have ended his misery, yet he struggled on, signless. i contemplated informing the chief executive officer of audioguides that he was mispronouncing the word but decided against it when i couldn't think of a way to tactfully present the information. after all, did i know how to say the word in czech? of course not. i did however know how to say it in german: audiof├╝hrer. the ceo of audioguides continued yelling while sarah and i split up to cover two of the three lines. she reached the objective first, and only after she had secured two tickets did i remember to tell her that i wanted to buy a required license ticket to take photographs. she gave me a mean look [sorry sweet. :)] back in line. i'm not sure how she did it, but she managed to secure the license ticket within a few minutes. out the ticket office door, we continued with the mission, walking directly through the cathedral entrance, bypassing several groups of scrambling troops along the way.

once inside, we realized we had made the correct choice with proceeding, not because it wasn't very crowded inside (to the contrary, it seemed that more than half the population of both japan and italy had descended upon this czech cathedral) but because the stained glass was magnificent. i would say the most beautiful stained glass that i've ever seen. in particular, this window, designed my czech artist alfons mucha, was stunning. [there is an alfons mucha museum in prague which we planned to visit later if time and energy permitted.] a wood carving of prague, hundred of years old, showing the charles bridge which we crossed less than an hour earlier. tombs, hundreds of years old.

the long column of tourists wound clockwise around the cathedral in a long rectangle. if the rectangle had been a circle, which of course it wasn't... in fact, it was a rectangle, but if it _had_ been a circle, and if the circle had been a clock, we entered the clock at about 0700. at approximately 0300 we saw a small staircase leading down. while the rest of the horde continued walking the clock, we descended, unnoticed, so we thought. below, we found the crypts. as we continued, we discovered that the exit of the crypts took us back up to the rectangular clock at an undesired time, so we backtracked to the stairs we had descended. it must have been just seconds before we arrived back at the bottom of the staircase that a major contingent of the clockwise winding column of tourists above located the _top_ of the staircase and broke off from the pack to see what was downstairs. the staircase, while only containing at most 10 stone stairs, was only about 1.5 people wide; sarah and i waited for literally two full minutes while a steady stream of people descended single file until we grew impatient and decided to attack straight up. each person had .75 person width... [outta our way, we're coming through, damnit]... we crushed by and made it back to the rectangle clock.

at 0400 we located the tower staircase. there was of course no discussion of whether or not we would ascend the 287 stairs to the top; the tower was part of our mission agenda. the guard stamped our tickets and we were off to the top, up, as others returned to the bottom, down. fortunately this winding windowless staircase was just a bit wider than the cryptcase and it was easier to slide around the descenders. i counted the stairs as we climbed. 285, 286, 287 stairs later, we had reached the pinnacle, the zenith. we had conquered the st. vitus cathedral staircase and captured photographs of the city. we left no photograph uncaptured, in fact. we captured them all. i counted the stairs again as we descended. some insidious voice inside me made me misrepresent the height of the tower; i told several sweating people who were within 30 stairs of the top that they had made it to the halfway point. i know, not nice... but they _were_ the enemy afterall.

sarah and i continued the clock and exited at 0500 with a burst of morale and a sense of accomplishment. we had seen the inside of the great beast and had survived. we continued on to the castle palace. once inside, i discovered some dates and names carved into the courtyard walls of the palace [photographs of other carvings can be found in the gallery here]. here sarah and i had a heated debate concerning the authenticity of these carvings. my claim: that they are authentic, carved in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. her claim: that they were carved long after, that if they were as old as the indicated date, the powers that be would have taken measures to protect them. she's seen my website and knows that i've been collecting photos of old stone carving 'graffiti' whenever i've encountered it, but despite all of the photos i've collected of carvings all over europe, she still insisted that these carvings were not authentic. were they all fake? was there some devious plot by some modern day taggers to carve old dates into cathedrals around europe? i suppose there can be no proof either way and i suppose she did have a point about the protection; they were old enough to warrant some type of plexiglass covering (which, incidentally, we saw over some indoor carvings in buildings on the castle grounds). we agreed to disagree. anyone care to share an opinion?

back inside the palace, the giant vladislav hall, once used for banquets, councils, coronations, and occasionally, jousting. we walked on and came to a room showing a movie about the castle [in czech; the english showing required a separate ticket that we had not purchased]. we decided to stop briefly. i watched the images intently at first, then less intently, and then not at all as the darkness and drone slowly stopped me for just a short rest. sarah shocked me awake and we were off... out of the palace to the golden lane, a series of old cottages originally used by castle sharpshooters, later by goldsmiths, now a long line of retromedieval shops wherein any d&d gamer would have traded his broadsword +2 and one thousand gold pieces to work. one shop sold all sorts of hardcrafted armor and weapons [aforementioned d&d gamer behind the counter], another room had an exhibit of torture devices. we walked on down the street, through another gate, past an interesting sculpture, to the black tower and down into a prison chamber, before leaving the prague castle. mission accomplished. venimus. vidimus. vicimus.

fatigued from our castle seige, sarah and i decided to change our victory celebration from a trip to kutna hora to a leisurely walking afternoon around prague. we made a quick stop into an internet cafe to make some additional accomodation reservations for the rest of our trip. i hadn't brought my laptop and we needed to make some reservations then and there; i reluctantly typed my credit card number into a public terminal and soon after realized my worst fears. the browser had saved the form information [very important financial form information, as it were] and without admin rights i was unable to clear the forms. the staff person didn't have the admin password either; perfect. he said he would shut down the computer and only after the admin had cleared the forms would they put the computer back into the cafe circulation. fine. sarah and i stopped back into the cafe three additional times that day to see if the admin had been in; negative, but the computer was still powered down.

after a lovely sunset, we had a delicious dinner in the old town square. blah to the couple behind us. tomorrow we'd be leaving prague for cesky krumlov. we returned to the hostel and packed so we could get another early start.

[### digression about the charles bridge. completed 600 years ago, the stone bridge was open to wheeled traffic until the 1970's when it was turned over to pedestrians. there are statues along both sides the entire length of the bridge; one particular statue draws a lot of attention. it's said that if you rub the plaque at the base of the statue of prague's patron saint, jan of nepomuk, tortured to death by vaclav iv in 1393, you'll return to prague later in your life. there's obviously more to this story; i need to do a little research. and of course i rubbed the plague.]

posted by paul at Fri 29 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

28 July 2005

some only with numbers

a slightly less early start than the day before, but we made it to the florenc bus station around 1100 after a bit of wandering and tracking. past this highly ornamental clock sculpture. we were heading to terezin today and needed to determine which bus to take and how to secure tickets. in the station, we perused the informational signs. a man saw us gasping and asked if we needed assistance [first in czech, incomprehensible, then in english]; told him we're going to terezin; he pointed us to counter 15 and 16. as a traveller you must always be alert for the scam, it's unfortunate not knowing if you can trust someone. most likely just a very nice helpful man, but a slight chance he was working for a specific bus company and was directing us there and to a potentially higher price. the charge on the shock system: full power. it's so hard to know, but best to always be careful. sarah continued searching the signs while i went to check out the counters. as it turned out, counters 15 and 16 were where i needed to be; thank you, sir, sorry for suspecting you of evildoing.

i stood in line at the ticket counter and listened as the woman in front of me asked the ticket agent, in english, for two tickets to tabor [pronouncing 'tabor' with emphasis on the 'bor' syllable (go ahead, try it out: 'taBOR')]. the young ticket agent looked back confused. the woman repeated her request: 'taBOR.' another confused look with a response 'that's a city in the czech republic?' the woman nodded and started opening a map when another person witnessing the struggle came to her aide... she said to the ticket agent: 'TAbor' [with emphasis on the 'ta' syllable rather than the 'bor' (again... give it a shot: TAbor)]. interesting. TAbor... not taBOR. i wondered if terezin was pronounced A) TErezin, B) teREzin, or C) tereZIN. i went with A. correct response. i walked away with four tickets (two for to, two for back). again, i felt at one with my people.

the earliest bus wasn't leaving until 1400. sarah and i had some time to kill; hadn't eaten yet; over to a very delightful restaurant with a very decorative interior. two points of interest. one: all of the restaurants in the czech republic at which i've dined have brought silverware and napkins, occasionally salt and pepper and various sauces as well, neatly arranged on a plate. i like the system. this restaurant was no different. two: my grandmother typically bakes rolls for all family functions. small, simple, salted, and absolutely delicious, they rarely last for more than ten minutes after being set out on the table, and it's not uncommon for several family members to hide a few for later consumption. i'm fairly certain that each of her nine grandchildren (me included) and at least a few of the seven (seven, gram?) great grandchildren have baked these rolls with her. [great memories]. the czech republic is the first place i've seen rolls like these outside of my grandmother's house. it made perfect sense... she learned how to bake these rolls from her mother, who grew up here... well, in luhacovice (where sarah and i would be travelling in a few days). such an amazing thing.

back over to the bus station and onto the bus. we stepped off in terezin about an hour later at 1500. i walked to the nearby tourist information center and grabbed a brochure and then took this picture of a map [i do this frequently. see a map on a sign : take a picture : use camera with zoom function for instant portable map. great system.] our return bus was at 2005. from the looks of the bus schedule at the arrival stop, it didn't look like the return bus would be leaving from the same stop. i looked around quickly and located the return stop.

our first destination: the museum of the ghetto. first, history. terezin was originally an 18th century defensive fortress built by emperor joseph ii; brick walls and a gigantic dry moat surround the entire town. a second smaller fortress was built nearby. in 1940, germans established a prison and work camp in the small fortress and in 1941 evicted all of the townspeople from the large fortress. the town of terezin became an intermediary transit camp for jews on their way to extermination camps in poland. overcrowding was a primary factor in the poor living conditions. approximately 35,000 jews died in terezin as a result of starvation, disease, suicide, or at the hands of the germans.

inside the museum. drawings and poems by children living in the ghetto. dreadful and sad, the reality, the children knowing what was to happen. the walls of the room listing the names of those victims who were known, but so many names were not. like the holocaust exhibits i'd seen in germany, the museum exhibits here were thoughtfully written and contained a lot of information, so much so that sarah and i spent an hour and a half in only three or four small rooms. interesting point: during wwii, international red cross officials asked to visit one of the jewish camps; the nazis went to great lengths to dress up terezin and present it as a refuge with its own jewish administration and cultural events to fool visiting officials.

despite only making it through about three quarters of the museum, sarah and i left at 1630 when we realized that the cemetary and krematorium were closing at 1700. it took us a little while to get our bearings and we didn't make it to the cemetary until 1655. the krematorium was closing and we decided to walk around the cemetary before heading to the lesser fortress which was closing at 1800.

the less fortress. isolation cells. photographs. rusted barbed wire. arbeit macht frei. three tiers of beds, long platforms. sarah and i looked closely at the wood, searching for any carvings, finding nothing. walking quickly to see as much before the closing. no one else around. quiet and heavy and somber, the air cold in the rooms. a little over sixty years ago, horrible things happened right here. finally a man tells us we must leave. i felt like there was more to see. outside, a cemetary for those exhumed from mass graves. some graves with names, some only with numbers. we walked back towards the large fortress containing the town, bearing right to follow the ohre river to a site where the ashes of 22,000 jews were thrown [memorial plaque]. it was right here that i captured a beautiful sky which seemed to fit the moment well.

we returned through the walls of the fortress, back to town, finally back to the central square at 1930 where we waited for our 2005 bus. small issue. we found what looked like a typical bus stop with a sign listing the departure times (including our 2005 bus), but we still we weren't completely sure that we were standing in the right place. there really wasn't any one else around (in fact, from the moment we arrived we noted that most of terezin seemed to be abandoned despite the cars and curtains; certainly this didn't seem like an appealing place to live and we wondered about the current population of the town). the 2005 was the last bus leaving for prague today; if we missed it we'd be sleeping in terezin tonight. while we were waiting, i wandered the square looking for other possible bus stops. found this. we decided to split up. sarah remained at bus stop alpha and i moved down to bravo. at 2008 the bus pulled into bravo; i yelled for sarah and she came running. on the way home we saw a beautifully bright red sunset. dinner and then the hostel after a heavy day.

posted by paul at Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

27 July 2005

halos of insects; it is a good day to be a spider in prague

czechspider.jpg

the sun hung high today, heat and humidity holding us down and making us yawn. sarah and i got an early start. metro to mustek, emerging into a mass of people. we walked through the old town square [here my travel weariness screamed at me; the differences in our reactions were obvious. sarah was so excited to see the city, constantly looking around taking in as much as possible, commenting on every amazement, very much like i was still just several weeks before, but regrettably now still unable to see the beauty in things, simply unable. i felt bad that i was in this state for sarah's visit, but only rest would change me.], stopping to watch the astronomical clock perform its dance, across the charles bridge, seeking an alone place. high above with a beautiful view, up a long steep path. we watched others walking below looking up, and some came and some didn't. finally back down, the heat again sapping until we found a secluded quiet park and rested. dinner and then a slow quiet walk in the dark up to the castle, circling, and then back down to the bridge for the swirling sky. the heads of the statues alight with halos of insects; it is a good day to be a spider in prague. intricate cities of orbs; a hierarchy, unified and feasting. the end of a slow sweet day.

back in the hostel we discussed our plans for the next several days. tomorrow we'd visit terezin, a jewish ghetto and concentration camp during wwii, approximately an hour north of prague. the following day we'd visit kutna hora, a small medieval town southwest of prague. we'd then leave prague to travel to cesky krumlov, over to luhacovice (where my great grandmother was raised), and eventually down to bratislava, slovakia, and then budapest, hungary.

so where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls?
: ziggy stardust, david bowie

posted by paul at Wed 27 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

26 July 2005

$16K in american currency

sarah was arriving today (yay!) at 1450. she had booked a private room at a different hostel in prague. i planned to check out of my current hostel, into the new, and then meet her at the airport. packed up and stored my pack in chris' room and then went out for some breakfast. back, said my goodbyes, and i was off.

bad news upon arrival at the new hostel. a sign hanging on the front door indicated there was ongoing maintenance on the hot water system and that there most likely wouldn't be hot water for several days. blah. i spoke with the receptionist and learned that they had rooms in another building; perfect. checked in; very clean, very nice, i was excited. off to the airport on bus 119; i was a professional.

i thought about taking a picture of sarah right when she stepped through the entryway, but i know how i feel when i get off of a plane after a long flight; the last thing i want is someone standing there with a camera aimed in my direction. in retrospect, i should have taken a picture because she looked very cute and fresh when she arrived. she'd been through a lot of transport in the past 24 hours: a 3.5 hour drive from boston to burlington, vermont; hours of waiting at the burlington bus station while greyhound tried to locate a driver after the assigned driver failed to show; a bus ride up to montreal, quebec [which included a long border stop when canadian border officials discovered that two algerian passengers were carrying $16K in american currency]; a flight to paris and then a flight to prague. had i endured that much transport, i'd have been ready for the new city nap; fortunately she had been able to sleep on the plane and had still had energy in her. we returned to the hostel, dropped off her bags, and then metroed into the city center for some dinner and a long walk. so happy to have her with me.

posted by paul at Tue 26 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

25 July 2005

of some horrible spirit

i slept in late. sarah was arriving tomorrow and i was trying to build my travel spirit. spent time reading and hanging with chris. we eventually made it out of the hostel in mid-afternoon, out for another new city walk, this time passing through the old town square and by the astronomical clock. the skeleton ringing the bell and the parading disciples. we ran into james, an australian chris had met the day before. chris and james had eaten dinner at a restaurant which chris had praised several times during the day for its low cost high quality food and exceptionally beautiful waitstaff; he wanted to return again this evening. back to the hostel to see if another chris accomplice, shawn, was around: no; chris, james, and i were off to the restaurant. as chance would have it, we ran into shawn on the way; the four of us continued on and arrived shortly thereafter. after dinner, i found chris' earlier exhultations to be somewhat unfounded. my food wasn't amazing and the final bill was approximately 10 usd a person. still a good deal; just not quite what i expected based on what chris had said. oh, and the waitresses were all horribly grotesque. :)

we returned to the hostel to find level 10 well underway with a gigantic bottle of some horrible spirit. over the next hour in the intangible layer involving mesh just beneath formality, plans changed and i ended up going out with chris, james [camo shorts], shawn, and another australian we'd met at the hostel, cameron, for a level 10 night without level 10. shawn negotiated a rate with a taxi driver who proceeded to drive us in a wide circle to a club which probably was about a ten minute walk away. at the door, the large bald bouncer asked me if i had any bombs to check. no, sir, no bombs to check. at the end of the night, we walked back to the hostel; shawn stopped at a street vendor stand to buy a chicken sandwich which was most likely prepared ten hours earlier. finally to sleep.

posted by paul at Mon 25 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

24 July 2005

the charge on the shock system

exit: scandinavia. if i wasn't meeting sarah in prague, i think i'd have stayed in the far north far longer. hidden away, from. but i was very excited to see my girlfriend, and so south for me. back to the oslo bus station, i was a professional now. [although i think a professional would have successfully found the airport bus without asking for help. she looked at the gigantic sign right behind me to find the platform and time [hi, i'm the gigantic sign right behind you which gives you information so you don't have to bother the nice bus people]. like i said, professional.]

my flight was leaving at 1220 and i got to the airport at 0930. the man eyed me suspiciously. i didn't blame him; _i'd_ eye me suspiciously. checked in, plenty of time. through the security detail to the other side. wandered; ate; waited, too long [look at watch] damn. run to the gate on the opposite side of the airport, through customs, to my plane. instructions in norwegian.

for one reason or another, whenever fellow travelers related travel horror stories, the czech republic always came up. night train gassings, grossly inflated bills at bars and restaurants, corrupt police, pickpockets, scams, you name it. for this reason, while i was waiting in the oslo airport, i made a point of locking up my bags with padlocks and rearranging my pocket contents so that i knew where everything was; secure and protected, there would be no blind fumbling. i also installed one of the anti-pickpocket electric shock systems i'd constructed... anyone who attempted to pick _my_ pockets was going to get far more than a wad of cash. >> POW! << let them try it. [pinchers of peril! you guys, i've been saved by my pinchers of peril! : source]

arrival in the czech republic. picked up my pack; aimless wandering; through customs with zero questions; into the terminal. i looked around suspiciously and checked the charge on the shock system. full power. perfect. first mission: withdraw czech currency.

there were two atm's in the terminal... i stood against a wall, pulled down my shades and scoped them out, looking for any questionable individuals standing against walls scoping out the atm's for unsuspecting victims. er... wait. okay, none that i could see. alpha team: GO. i stealthed up to the first atm palming my atm card. as far as i could tell, the atm hadn't been outfitted with an external account number reading system; clean. proceed. i looked left, then right. then left again. then right again. i wanted to look left again, but decided i better proceed with typing in my personal identification number. access granted; i was in. four thousand czech crowns (koruna cesky): 4000kc. card ejected. two notes ejected. receipt ejected. i stealthed away and returned to the wall. mission accomplished.

fortunately, ronnie (from the sketchy oslo hostel) had filled me in on the transport details for getting into the city center: bus to the metro; metro to the center. i didn't think the bus driver would appreciate a 2000kc note. i needed change. one refreshing coca-cola would do. 65kc. okay, sure. i handed over a 2000kc note and she looked up, annoyed. i smiled; one refreshing coca-cola please. i quickly grabbed my changed and sat down at a nearby table to check out the czech currency. (1) 1000kc note; (1) 500kc note; (2) 200kc notes; (1) 10kc coin; (1) 5kc coin. wait a second. 1000 + 500 + 200 + 200 + 10 + 5 = 1915. wait just one second. 2000 - 65 = 1935. I'D BEEN SCAMMED! she shorted me 20kc! nooooo! i couldn't believe it. i contemplated walking back to the checkout counter to straighten out the situation and then decided against it. 20kc was about 80 cents. it had taken me a few minutes (and a scientific calculator and slide rule) to determine that i'd been shorted... i didn't want to start a 'no i didn't'/'yes you did' battle. i'll take this as a learning experience; count your change. i summoned up as much evil as i could spread across my face, locked on target, and fired a glare directly at her. direct hit; she knew; i knew; she knew i knew. i checked the charge on the shock system. still full power.

bus 119, just as ronnie had described. i found the bus stop. my destination: dejvicka. damn, i should have read the czech pronunciation guide before arrival. there's no way 'dejvicka' is pronounced 'dej - vic - ka' here. no way. i was going to have to guess. i decided to go with a silent 'j'. and that 'ck' sound needed some sparkle. i threw in a 'ch' sound. 'day - vitch - ka'. sure, that sounds czech. time to try it out. bus: on.

me: 'one for dayvitchka.'

bus driver: [czech: i got the dayvitchka part, but that's about it, tourista. [confused look]]

me: 'dayvitchka?' [index finger in the air indicating 'one']...[come on man, you're a bus driver, i'm a passenger. obviously i want a freaking ticket. hand it over.]

bus driver: jeden?

me: [YES: jeden.] yes. [head nodding]

bus driver: [czech: 25kc]

i had no idea what he had just said, but i handed over a 200kc note and he returned me some change. i validated the ticket in the little yellow box and took a seat. despite the earlier change shorting experience, i wasn't very concerned about the change (which was the correct 175kc, by the way)... i was beyond excitement: the bus driver had said 'jeden' and i had understood it; one of the few czech words i knew... taught to me by my czech-speaking grandmother! i was smiling as the bus drove away. i felt as one with my people. [digression] the motto of the united states of america: e pluribus unum. how cool is that? i think it is above level cool. out of many, one. so simply, so perfect. [end digression]

i was sitting on the right side of the bus and watching the bus stops intently. the bus was equipped with an led screen which showed the current and next stop; a prerecorded voice announced the same. dejvicka was the very last stop on the 119 line, so i wasn't concerned about missing the stop; mostly trying to learn the czech pronunciation. arrival: day - vits - ka. i'd been very close.

down into the depths of the metro system. alert. full power. i was fairly certain that my bus ticket would work for the metro as well, but i confirmed with an attendant regardless. the ticket was good for 90 minutes after validation. i'd made reservations at the old prague hostel and the hostel had provided directions: dejvicka -> mustek -> [switch lines] -> namesty republicky. done with no difficulty. i emerged from the depths.

gps. satellites acquired. i was on my way. fifteen minutes later, i was checked in and the pack was stowed. _great feeling_.

sarah would be arriving on tuesday and i didn't want to check out any of the city museums or galleries before she arrived. i set out on a new city walk up to the castle; uphill cobblestones (i imagined each stone being laid). i immediately liked prague; such an old and beautiful city. all of the sidewalks made up of very small stone cubes, gray and white, in varying patterns. across a powerful stone bridge, statues and spiders, crowded and flashing. after a long walk, i returned to the hostel.

many americans. i met chris and lindsay and the level 10 crew: a group of seven recent high school graduates from los angeles who were traveling across europe together. five of the seven were staying in the hostel; the other two had already had reservations in a hotel. level 10 had been traveling for three weeks and hadn't seen a single museum or art gallery, hadn't visited any castles or fortresses or towers or botanical gardens. they were in europe for one mission and they were conducting that mission on level 10 at every waking hour (which tended to be 1500 - 0500). i won't list the details of their adventures, but suffice it to say that they involve much nightlife and many beverages. i'll admit; this was a mindset that i didn't understand. to travel to a distant country and not visit places of cultural significance? why travel if only to see the inside of clubs and bars that look very similar to those back at home? but after talking with level 10 for a while, i felt things align in my head. travel is very personal; everyone experiences new places in their own way. if these guys wanted to party across europe, more power to them... at least they were traveling. they seemed to be having a blast and i was happy for them. we made plans to go out the next night; a level 10 night.

i disarmed the anti-pickpocket shock system before heading to bed, talking to chris and lindsay. lindsay's friend obviously had good dreams.

posted by paul at Sun 24 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

23 July 2005

overflowing with sketchiness

well, that's interesting. the room i was staying in had five beds; three singles and a bunk. ronnie and i were both in singles; one sketchy roommate was in the other single and the the other sketchy roommate was in the top bunk; other less sketchy roommate in bottom bunk. when i woke up i saw that two people were sleeping in the single next to me; one sketchy roommate and his equally sketchy new guy non.roommate friend. in summary, this room was overflowing with sketchiness.

i'd missed the national gallery on my previous trip to oslo. despite my general fatique, i was interested in seeing some paintings. a short walk and i was there. one token for the locker; no metal detector. as it turned out... i was completely wrong about munch's 'the scream'. the painting is _still missing_ along with 'the madonna'. another version of 'the scream' is on display, but it's not quite the same. a museum curator seemed somewhat embarrassed to give me this information.

back in the hostel, the sketchiness had died down. hung with ronnie for a while. he reminded me that tomorrow was sunday and that bus schedules might be different. good call. i walked downstairs and found bus information on the wall. all set to get to the airport.

another no picture day.

posted by paul at Sat 23 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 July 2005

again; arabic. out.

the bus to oslo left at 0900. an uneventful ride back to oslo, the draining feeling still with me. back to the same bus station. i'd decided to try a different hostel for these two days in oslo; much more central. i learned later from a roommate that best western runs the hostel. right there with my gps guide. ronnie, from scotland, a very nice down to earth guy who told me fun stories about prague. other roommates were quite sketchy [algerians, ronnie had learned; seemed they were conducting some elicit operation, using our hostel room as headquarters]. i went out and bought a pizza; brought it back to the room. sketchy roommates came in and out. one had two cell phones; phone 01 started ringing with some electro.beatbox ringtone; looked at the caller id and decided not to answer; kept ringing [udzte udzte]. phone 02 started ringing; lots of yelling in french. phone 01 again; arabic. out. ronnie and i went to sleep. sketchiness continued throughout the night; 0300 entry with lights and much noise. this was one of the few days when i hadn't taken any pictures. i hadn't felt like taking pictures. i felt like resting.

posted by paul at Fri 22 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

21 July 2005

without a destination, walking

IMG_8422.jpg

i wonder if the changing of the guard in stockholm was so impressive a few hundred years ago. 'well, sven, it's noon and i'm here to replace you.' 'okay, jan, have a good shift.' nowadays, the changing of the guard draws a giant swarm of tourists and is conducted with much grandeur and ceremony. hell, an entire band shows up on horseback to parade around. how would you like to be one of these two horses with drums mounted on either side of its neck? wow. these two horses and their riders enjoyed the spotlight for about five minutes; the drummers went off on a drum solo while the horses walked robotically around in some well rehearsed circular pattern. the entire ceremony went off smoothly despite the potential for a horse to freak out and crush an unsuspecting tourista. [damn]. with all of the distraction, i missed the actual changing of the guard; i know that the guard was changed only because his uniform was a different color and i thought the current guard would have thought it inappropriate to change clothes in front of all the people.

i walked on; past a giant submerged in the water. past the national museum of cultural history with a sign indicating admission was free; in. an exhibit of toys and one of my favorite games. the best; a series of old photographs. i've decided that once i buy a house, i'll do my best to decorate the walls with old photographs of the surrounding area. back outside. my attention, as has been the case recently, is still drifting. i walked on without a destination, walking slowly, without purpose, mostly looking down [in stockholm, sweden; looking _down_ [although i suppose i wouldn't have seen the expended cap gun ammunition if i hadn't been looking down; great find]]. i bought more groceries before heading back to the crypt, and the act of paying for the groceries triggered a series of thoughts which hadn't been with me since i made the decision to travel. i wondered if my money would be better spent elsewhere... if it would be better saved for some type of investment, or capital for a new project, or a down payment on a house. i didn't know how to process these thoughts. after three and a half months on the road, i was tired of traveling.

back at the hostel, i made some food and then thought about the future of the global reconnaissance organization. would these feelings go away? did i need a break? did i need to return to the states for a while? it definitely didn't make sense to continue traveling if i wasn't excited about it; that would certainly be a complete waste of money. i had some time to make a decision; i'd be meeting sarah in prague in five days and we'd be traveling together for just under two weeks.

posted by paul at Thu 21 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

20 July 2005

with an explosion, i was out

eyes open [empty as halos]. darkness [imprisoning me]. silence. i fumbled around for my treo... damn, 1030. i remembered hitting the snooze button several times before eventually turning the alarm off altogether. 1030 and a complete blackness in the crypt. i found my way to the door using my headlight. i hated the lack of natural light in this basement crypt.

[digression] i usually listen to music while i'm writing these entries; the music has a great influence on the tone of each entry. one problem. if i put on music which is overly engaging or which i haven't heard in a while, i find myself actively listening to the music and am unable to concentrate on writing. the median exists; music which i like but which doesn't draw me away from the writing. lately i've been defaulting to 'shout' by tears for fears. yeah, i'm talking to you. come on. i find it amazing the way music can instantly change out my whole set of feelings for another within a few minutes. transporting me back in time to the feelings i had when i first heard the song. where i was. who i was. one set of new feelings, please. installed. [end digression]

the new city walk the day before didn't count; my mind wasn't receptive, energy failing. today was a new day; i had crypt sleep last night. i assembled all resources available to globalrecon.org, consulted the supreme counsel, and drafted a plan to attack stockholm straight on with renewed energy. h-hour arrived and i ran up the hostel stairs, slowing only to strap on my brilliantly brown hiking boots, and with an explosion, i was out the door on the stockholm streets.

quite a beautiful city, this stockholm built on islands, the blue of the water and of the sky framing the lovely architecture.

on august 10, 1628, the swedish warship wasa sank on its maiden voyage. 329 years later in 1957 the ship was located; salvaging operations lasted four years. marine archaelogists drilled holes through the seafloor beneath the ship, inserted cables through the holes, and with the help of giant winches slowly pulled the entire vessel to the surface. thousands of pieces which had broken off were collected and the entire ship was reassembled and conserved and is now on display in the amazing wasa museum. truly amazing. upon entering the museum, i felt like one of the goonies entering the giant cavern wherein rested one-eyed willie's pirate ship. [quick pull from my nebulizer, my eyes wide open taking in the splendor of the giant wasa]. a short film in the museum indicated that the ship sank because there was not enough counterbalance in the hull; the wasa incorporated a new design with two gun decks. the weight of the cannons caused the ship to topple after the sails caught a burst of wind. water rushed in open gun ports and the rest is history. the ship had not yet taken on its full compliment of sailors (145) and soldiers (300), a total of 445 men, when it sank. approximately thirty people died as the ship went down; ten skeletons were recovered and are resting in the museum. museum exhibits indicated that living conditions were so poor aboard ships of this time period that had the wasa not sank on its maiden voyage, a great number of passengers would have eventually died anyway as a result of disease and malnutrition. pleasant. i stayed at the museum until it closed.

i walked a bit more, capturing a forboding picture and then stopping for groceries before heading back to the crypt. shoes off.

posted by paul at Wed 20 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

19 July 2005

nothing with eyes wide

woke up at approximately 1000; the train was due in stockholm at 1115. sat up in bed and waited for the train to arrive in the central station. german crew... much activity. much 'mein rucksack'. arrival [let me the hell out of here]; the central station was bustling. i sat in a corner and transferred the hostel information from my laptop to my treo and also loaded the stockholm map details into my gps. as it turned out, the hostel was less than a ten minute walk from the train station. i doubted i'd be permitted to check in before noon, so i milled around the train station for a little while and grabbed some food. milling time is important.

got to the hostel at 1230. i was right; no check-in until 1400. the hostel woman seemed frustrated and irritated. it looked like she had other things on her mind; i found out later that the hostel is in the midst of construction on a new room. i asked if i could store my pack until 1400... sure, downstairs, but please take your shoes off first. quite annoying. shoes off, packed stored, shoes on, i helped the hostel woman carry in some new couch cushions that the delivery men had left on the sidewalk. she called them lazy. i was out on the stockholm streets.

wandered a bit through the beautiful city, to gamla stan and sodermalm. narrow sidewalks filled with people. ice cream. at some point during the two hours of preliminary recon, i remember thinking 'hmm, another city'. my energy to explore stockholm was waning; indeed my energy for exploring any city was waning. back to the hostel by 1430. shoes off, blah. i didn't really care for this hostel. it was clean enough, the location was perfect, and there was free wifi internet access, but in addition to the shoe rule (which while seemingly benign really got under my skin for some reason), the rooms were in the basement, cryptlike and untouched by natural light... the complete opposite of my northern norwegian excursion where the sun never set and the curtains couldn't be bothered. the hostel woman seemed on the edge of hostel manager burnout. others commented that it was one of the nicer hostels that they had stayed in, but for me it was nothing but negative energy. i toyed with the idea of moving to another hostel for the following two nights, but decided i didn't want the hassle.

after check in, i spent the rest of the day with admin duties. did two loads of laundry, updated the site, and researched travel plans before heading to the crypt. i set my treo alarm to wake me up at 0830. with the lights out and the door to the room shut, the darkness didn't improve after fifteen minutes of adjustment; still absolutely nothing with eyes wide open. the beds were packed into the room; one exit. negative energy seething.

posted by paul at Tue 19 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

18 July 2005

the supreme counsel of the global reconnaissance organization

narvik.jpg

damn. what the hell was i going to do? this was the first time on the trip when i'd forgotten something in the hostel. two somethings in fact: 01. a large plastic envelope containing copies of my passport photo page, driver's license, and immunization records, as well as numerous informational brochures, ticket stubs, museum handouts, and city maps. 02. my new book, d-day by stephen ambrose. i was concerned about the copies of my personal documents; a little annoyed about the other documents and the book. i'd packed the night before to expedite my departure this morning; i'd forgotten that when i'd first arrived at the hostel, i'd temporary stored a few items in one of the cabinets. therein the items in question lay.

[+]: i'd remembered that i'd forgotten the envelope and book while i was still in tromso.

[-]: it was 0605 and my bus was leaving at 0620. it had taken me half an hour to walk down from the hostel fully loaded.

[+]: there was another bus leaving at 1030 which would get me to narvik in time to catch my overnight train to stockholm.

[-]: the 1030 bus arrived only ten minutes before the train departed, almost zero slack time for any type of transportational difficulty with the bus.

gentlemen, i need options and i need them now.

option 01: the overall global reconnaissancee mission will not be threatened. you still have all documents necessary to complete the objective. ask the hostel staff to properly dispose of the forgotten items.

option 01 response: i can't be sure that the staff will effectively destroy my personal documents. if copies of my passport, driver's license, and immunization records fall into the wrong hands, the overall mission may be affected. this option is not viable.


option 02: ask the hostel staff to store the forgotten items and return to tromso later in the trip to retrieve them.

option 02 response: i can say with 99% certainty that i won't be returning to tromso later in this mission. tromso is not on the way to any other global reconnaissance destination. this option is not viable.


option 03: ask the hostel staff to mail you the items.

option 03 response: possible. i'd first need to wire money to the staff for shipping costs. i'd then need to determine where i'll be in the upcoming days and remain in one location long enough to receive the package. this option would be onerous to the hostel staff and i couldn't be sure they would agree.


option 04: take the 1030 bus.

option 04 response: possible, but if anything affects the bus timing... traffic, flat tire, road construction... i won't catch my train. the train ticket fare was non-refundable. if i miss the train, i lose the money. this option is too risky.


option 05: run your ass back up to the hostel and get that shit.

option 05 response: are you kidding me? there's no way i'd make it in time. the bus leaves in fifteen minutes. it took me half an hour to walk that distance with my pack on. no time.

option 05.1: taxi, brainiac.

option 05.1 response: that would be expensive... and where would i find a taxi at 0606 in the morning?

option 05.2: if you have a better option, then please, by all means, go for it. otherwise, get your ass in that taxi right over there and tell the driver to step on it.

POW! and with that the supreme counsel of the global reconnaissance organization had selected option 05 and i was in the back of a taxi speeding back up the hill to the hostel. four minutes later i was at the hostel and had a new problem. i'd dropped my keys off in the dropbox when i'd left and the front door, as expected, was locked. reception didn't open for hours. it was currently 0610. knock knock. pound pound pound. someone hear me. no. i ran back to the taxi and asked if he could call the reception. he already had the number programmed in his phone. call. nice, someone was on their way to the reception. in the door, gigantic apology, ran up to my room, grabbed the envelope and book, back down, another gigantic apology and an even bigger thanks and handshake, out the door. back in the taxi speeding back down the hill to the bus station. got there _right_ as the bus was pulling in at 0620. perfect.

arrival in narvik at approximately 1030. fuoko introduced himself; he'd biked from copenhagen to the north cape and was now cruising around seeing other sites. very nice guy. cruise narvik and damn, what the hell are you doing here? it was nate from tromso who had departed the day before. i had about four hours to enjoy narvik with nate before my train departed. i think we agreed these rock carvings were four thousand years old. got some food at the supermarket and relaxed at the train station. [at some point in narvik, i lost the hat i'd bought on the nordlys to survive the arctic cold. this is the only picture i have of it. if you find it, please notify me.]

train; i said my second goodbyes to netanel and boarded. six person sleeper and i was the only one in the compartment [soaking in more fjord scenery and snapping pictures out the open train window] until five germans (my take: four somewhat boisterous and dare i say annoying children and one 'cool uncle who lets us get away with far more than our parents') crammed into the space with an excess of baggage in kiruna, sweden (approximately three and a half hours from narvik). lots of 'mein rucksack'... 'rucksack'... 'rucksack'. one backpack had a full set of antlers hanging out of it. they'd obviously been hiking that day; the smell factor increased significantly in the small compartment. i really wasn't in any type of interactive mode; they stuck to their loud non-stop annoyingness and i stuck to my own 'i want this compartment to myself againness'. soon they asked if they could set up the beds (converting the two three seat benches each to a bed); fine. i spent some time writing before laying down and falling asleep.

posted by paul at Mon 18 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

17 July 2005

on this day of nothings

today was sunday. tromso had died completely and i died along with it. beyond resuscitation, i sat and watched the water for a long while on this day of nothings. nate had departed this morning and i was again on my own.

i wandered to the polar museum, filled with exhibits of trapping and hunting. arctic foxes, seals, whales, bears. one bear trap incorporated a rifle in a long box; the bait was on a string attached to the trigger. bait -> trigger -> pow, right in the forehead. the exhibit descriptions were all in norwegian; a handout was provided in english, but not on the same level as the norwegian. a film entirely in norwegian, informationally void for me. back downstairs a video showed a boat rescue; i watched the entire thing. the storm prevented the small rescue boat from getting close enough to the mothership; fifteen minutes of trying before success. no language needed.

my last opportunity for a midnight sun. i spent some time in the hostel talking with john before heading out. i won't disclose john's secrets, but suffice it to say that he's been on the road a long time and i learned a few things from him. very interesting guy. [nice meeting you, john. send me an email.] twenty minute walk back to the city center, the sun was hiding behind the clouds. i waited for a long while to see my ship, the ms nordlys, return to tromso after reaching kirkenes.

posted by paul at Sun 17 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

16 July 2005

standing within the shadow

midnatsol.jpg

tromso, yet another town next to a mountain or hill. what is the deviation? this time, a cable car; a quick ride to the top with zero satisfaction. nate and i would hike.

slow and gradual, finally steep, i was feeling much better today. we made it to the top cable car station, but not the top of the mountain. when i asked nate if he wanted to continue climbing, he replied 'yeah, why not?' exactly, why not? on and on, these mountains are so deceptive. what appears close is always far. we kept walking upwards until the path disappeared, through the ice, past the water falling, past the miniature dolmens. [flashback to ireland: please do not build miniature dolmens.] at the flat rocks we decided we had reached 'the top' and that the next higher peak actually belonged to an entirely different mountain. the clouds closed in around us, preparing to swallow nate. fifteen minutes of the top, alone, we began the descent. for all of the mounds of feces we avoided we saw not one of the beasts. the ground was spongy, cushioning each step, but after fifteen minutes of descent with quads and knees burning i needed a hill to even out my legs. just one incline, please. finally back to the hostel for more spaghetti. i wasn't entirely steady, but the swaying wasn't nearly as bad as yesterday. i had no idea it would take this long for four days of oversea transportation to wear off.

john repaid my internet lesson the night before with a great lesson in photography. thanks john.

after a shower, i ventured out again with nate and sjourd. sjourd had yet to see the town and nate and i wanted to see if we could glimpse the midnight sun on this first clear night. sjourd broke off to take the cablecar to the peak where nate and i had climbed earlier in the day. nearing the tromso bridge, i saw the southbound hurtigrute on the water and tried to reach the pinnacle of the bridge before it passed beneath. another deceptively long span; running full speed [nate must have thought i was crazy]; i missed it and had to settle for a picture as it pulled into port on the other side of the bridge. at the top of the bridge, i realized i should have accompanied sjourd; the top of the hill was one of the few places in town being hit by the midnight sunlight. for one standing within the shadow, the sun hung low on the horizon; a short rest before beginning its daily climb.

i've seen these flowers all over norway. purple, pink, white. very beautiful.

posted by paul at Sat 16 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

15 July 2005

still less than zero

happy birthday jenn!

i was able to sleep until 1000 this morning, repairing, but upon waking i was still swaying. i wanted to make travel plans before i explored the city; best to plan at the arrival to avoid departure stress. my lovely girlfriend would be meeting me in the czech republic in ten days. i'd originally planned to be somewhere in germany at this time; i now found myself far above the arctic circle and needed to determine how i'd get to prague.

i'd heard one internet cafe was charging 2 kroner, roughly .30 usd, a minute for internet access. over 18 usd an hour to use the internet. blah. i would not be victimized; i'm an advocate of free internet. one day. it took me about thirty minutes to zero an open internet access point, outside, a bit cold, a few strange looks, but free. again, hours wading through websites. the plan drafted to be set in motion in four days: bus to narvik, norway; train to stockholm, sweden; [transport to oslo, norway, to be determined]; plane to prague, czech republic. it's a good feeling when plans are made. i'm not quite at the flexibility by day level; currently at flexibility by week. a potential evolution.

my body was still less than zero. i would overcome the sickness by eating and sleeping. i wandered the city a bit, crossing the tromso bridge to the arctic cathedral. watched the northbound hurtigrute enter the harbor. but not too much walking, i returned to the hostel and met john [australian], stephan [german], nate [israeli], noelle [french], and sjourd [dutch]. quite an international crew. after the spaghetti i felt like i was winning the battle. nate had climbed the mountain today; i asked him if he wanted to go out again at midnight. we resigned to climb tomorrow.

john said he had seen me on the computer earlier and wondered how i'd connected. i gave him a short lesson in the covert wifi operations of the global reconnaissance organization.

posted by paul at Fri 15 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

14 July 2005

in an effort to repair myself

the ending day of my great journey north along the norwegian coast, a beautiful time. an early morning call to harstad at 0645. my transformation into a morning person was not quite so complete. i didn't join many of the others on the shore, choosing to remain on the nordlys to repair my broken sleep. it was breaking more and more with each day.

a short while after departing harstad, many passengers gathered in the stern for an 'arctic circle ceremony' at 1030. my estimate was far off, but i attended to watch king neptune congratulate the winner and initiate her and others into his kingdom by pouring icey water on the backs of their necks. king neptune looked quite a bit like the lead troll who had climbed aboard while the nordlys explored the trollfjord the day before, but of course, i knew that was impossible. took a ten kroner shower and packed up my things for a rainy arrival in tromso. my feelings; a bit sad to be departing the ship. i asked someone to capture a last image.

i contemplated walking to the hostel, but the rain intensified and dictated i find the 26 bus; later i'm glad that i did as the road to the hostel was uphill and remote. met australians andrew and ryan who gave me many helpful tips regarding their homeland. visited the nearby grocery store for the staple and while i ate my spaghetti and salad that evening, i descended into sickness. i'd been on a ship for the past four days and now back on land i found i was still moving back and forth uncontrollably. concentrate on one point; overpower with the mind, this isn't happening. but i couldn't and finally needed to retire in an effort to repair myself. the curtains in the hostel room did little to defeat the light. i pulled my hat over my eyes, spinning, and eventually drifted back and forth to sleep. i wondered if the food i'd been keeping in the unrefridgerated locker on the ship was adding its own story to that of the broken sleep and land sickness. i hoped not.

posted by paul at Thu 14 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

13 July 2005

in place upon a stare, sustained

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i'd set my alarm to go off at 0700; plenty of time to prepare for the arctic circle crossing, so i thought. i was awakened by the loud double tone which preceded a shipwide general announcement. looked at my watch: 0655. i listened intently to the announcement in norwegian (which preceded the english), trying desparately to pick out any semblance of the words 'arctic circle'; and _there they were_. before the english started, i'd already pulled the keys out of my pocket and was fumbling to unlock the pacsafe which contained my camera and gps. english: 'in a few minutes, we'll be crossing the arctic cirlce...' AH! no time. i managed to extract my camera, threw on my shoes, and ran down to deck five and outside to snap this picture of a globe on the small island of vikingen signifying the circle. we'd crossed at 0700:21, 18 minutes and 3 seconds before i'd predicted [blah!]. in my rush to get outside, i'd left my daypack, gps, sleeping bag, and other important articles lying on the couch in the lounge.

my mother keeps telling me that i should include myself in more of my pictures; here you go, mom. love you. [source: mulletsgalore.com]. really, contemplating the meaning of life with morning hair. i've decided this world trip is a dry run for global recon trip 2010. on that trip, i'll bring a trip photographer whose sole responsibility will be to capture pictures of me in interesting candid moments. i'll also seek endorsements from garmin, fujitsu, canon, palmone, kensington, and rayovac.

slight tech digression here: i'm using rayovac i-c3 nimh 2000mah aa batteries to power my camera (four batteries) and gps (two batteries). these batteries can be recharged in only fifteen minutes; rayovac makes both four and two battery chargers. the four battery charger has an external power source and bulky cable; i'm carrying the two battery charger which is lighter and much more compact. i could not have picked a better battery/charger system in the consumer price range. in addition to the six batteries always in use in my camera and gps, i'm carrying six spares which i charge whenever i have a free moment and see an open electrical outlet (in fact, i'm charging two batteries in one of the lounges on the ship as i type this). i also have two batteries in a portable razor; these are emergency spares (if you've seen the picture at the link above, you'll know that the razor isn't seeing much action these days). i've not run out of power once during my travels. amazing system. the global reconnaissance organization endorses the rayovac fifteen minute charger system. i recommend it to every traveler i meet who is still using the eight hour plus overnight chargers.

while i'm on the subject of technology, a quick note about my photos. my camera, a canon powershot a95, uses compact flash memory cards; i have a 512 mb card. i've only filled this card up twice. my laptop, which i'm always carrying on my back when i'm taking photos, accepts compact flash cards and it takes only minutes to transfer all of the images from the card to the laptop hard drive. on the two occasions when i've filled up the card while out in the field [what a great expression. makes me feel like a real photographer; while i was out in the field], i simply transferred all of the images to my laptop hard drive.

finally, a note about my camera and photography. i bought my camera shortly before departing on my trip and didn't get a chance to read through the entire manual. in addition to being very new to 'semi.serious' photography (which i define as the level above 'snapshots' where i deliberately look for interesting subjects and take time to properly frame the image), i may be missing a feature which would help me correct the two problems i've been seeing in my pictures. the first, when taking a picture of a typical landscape (ground/sky), i've noticed that many times the blue of the sky has turned to white in the pictures. i've typically been using the camera in 'auto' mode and it often fails in its guess regarding how much light to allow in. i've tried other camera modes, including 'manual' which allows the specification of shutter speed and f-stop (i believe), but haven't been very successful in eliminating this problem. the second, occasionally when taking pictures in darker settings, i'll notice that the corners of the image are darker, creating a circle effect around the middle of the image. again, these issues may exist due to my ignorance of all of the camera features or my lack of experience with semi.serious photography. in any regard, i feel that i'm ready to progress to the next level of photography. whether that means purchasing a new camera, simply studying the manual in greater detail, or taking a photography class, i'm ready. i feel like i should take time now to bring myself to that next level so that my photos in the next phases of this trip are of higher quality; i'm just not sure how to proceed. end of tech digression.

i felt at home on the boat. stops at ornes and a rainy shore leave from 1230 to 1500 at bodo. tracked by a submarine (look closely). onward to the lofoten wall, the string of islands so called because from a distance they give the appearance of an impenetrable wall. calling at stamsund and passing the ms vardik before svolvaer. the most remote. beautiful skies, afternoon to evening. i'd been tracking our progress on my gps as the ship carved its way north through the islands, the channel narrowing gradually. the tour manager had made an announcement an hour before, warning the passengers not to go to sleep early as the ship would be passing through the trollfjord at approximately 2230.

2225, the ship made an abrupt turn to port, much to my surprise as my gps indicated this was a dead end. the double tone and the announcement. we were about to enter the realm of the norwegian troll.

slowly and steadily, the nordlys sailed into the impossibly narrow fjord, the steep rock rising, the darkest green of the plants which seemed to scurry amongst the rocks during a glance, freezing in place upon a stare, sustained by the sparkling of magic, all the while the glowing eyes of the trolls watching intently from beneath their rocks. the water fleeing the cliffs running to the ocean was forced to slow here, crawling; the fog surrounded and enveloped us, wondering. a calm fell on us beholding this place; a silence, as if anything more than a whisper would stir the monsters. into the widest at the end, the ship steered around. and i didn't want it to end, i wanted to be placed on the shore and sleep amongst them.

i was standing right in the middle of the deck with my full attention to the magic, everyone's was; the magic of that place demanded it. and for that reason we were oblivious; five trolls had made it aboard the ms nordlys and were wandering freely on deck five where most of the passengers had gathered and were watching the walls of the mountains. i'll repeat; five norwegian hill trolls had been disturbed by our presence and had climbed silently aboard and were wandering _freely_, no doubt searching for a meal. only when the pack of trolls was upon me did i take notice and i literally jumped in fright upon looking at the horrific visage of the lead troll. quickly my horror faded to laughter as he put his hand on the shoulder of an old woman facing in the opposite direction, intently focused on the scenery. she turned slowly and looked directly at the troll, confused but not frightened. i'm not sure how she did it; a stronger soul. the stocky man wearing the mask old and stodgy and wrinkled and troll-like with a long white beard lead four children trollings around wearing makeup; as the pack walked on i was still laughing. the absolute best; i couldn't have imagined better, truly. still laughing as i watched the pack part the crowd, jumping during the parting. the most gigantic smile on my face; the ms nordlys withdrew from the trollfjord as slowly as it had entered. even more than the amazing geirnanger fjord scenery yesterday, i was affected by this place, the highest of highlights.

the slowness of the water [avi movie file; 1.19mb]

posted by paul at Wed 13 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

12 July 2005

an elegant simplicity, delicate

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i slept in a bit longer this morning, surrounded by a chair enclosure i'd created the night before to shelter myself from the early morning people. shore leave at 0815 in trondheim where we docked behind the ms finnmarken. we wouldn't be departing until noon, so i had a few hours to explore the city. i headed for the green spire in the distance, passing along the way a parking enforcement officer and an interesting looking manhole cover.

the spire belonged to the nidaros cathedral. construction began on this magnificent building in 1077; fire, destruction, rebuild, repeat. scanning the walls, i found the biggest collection of graffiti on a single building yet [gallery]. stunning; these carvings so fascinated me that i spent most of the shore leave walking slowly around the building taking pictures. thinking about someone standing in that exact spot hundreds of years ago hits me somewhere deep inside. i came across many cryptic carvings which i initially thought were some type of runic writing; i later learned after talking with one of the cathedral attendants that the marks were carved by the stonecutters; a sort of branding identification mark.

time was running out on the shore leave. i ran to an internet cafe and typed this entry before returning to the nordlys.

the concrete bridges in northern norway, an elegant simplicity, delicate arches. more bridges than i would have expected connecting the remote islands. we received an excellent reception at this bridge in the afternoon shortly before passing through the narrow stokksund sound and a bend so sharp that the ship needed to blow the horn to warn oncoming traffic. at 2045 the nordlys called at rorvik, meeting the midnatsol on its southbound voyage. the water became choppy before the light rain. i wished i could properly categorize the waves [research]; i recalled reading about the different classes of waves which sailors use to describe the condition of the sea at the maritime museum in grenwich. for the first time i was somewhat affected by the swelling waves, but still i wanted their intensity to increase. how exciting to sail through a thrashing storm.

that night the nordlys was holding an arctic circle competition. the ship would be crossing the arctic circle between 0630 and 0800 tomorrow morning. all passengers were asked to submit their best guess as to when the crossing would take place. guess... ha. i spent about twenty minutes with my gps performing extensive navigational calculations. this competition would be mine. we were scheduled to depart nesna (below the arctic circle) at 0530 and arrive at ornes (above the arctic circle) at 0930; based on our average speed, the average windspeed, the terrain between those ports, and the age and estimated navigational experience of the captain, i determined we would cross 66 degrees 33' latitude at exactly 0718 and 23 seconds.

to the lounge; i built by chair cage, set my alarm for 0700, and went to sleep.

posted by paul at Tue 12 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

11 July 2005

clinging to the steep

i woke up at 0600 in the lounge surrounded by morning people germans. haben sie gut geschlafen? nein. bright sun. i was still incredibly tired. i didn't sleep well on the hard couch; my body sending all reserve power to repair my burned skin. i felt something i can only describe as 'pressure' surrounding me; this existed both inside and outside the vessel. still, i was excited for today. the ms nordlys would be traveling into the geiranger fjord. i applied some sunblock to my face, gathered my food from the locker (the unlocked locker; how far i've come), and headed outside to make myself a sandwich. first port of call was torvik at 0720; a short stop with no shore leave. next to alesund, with forty minutes of shore leave, barely enough time to buy some fruit to ward off the scurvy. i was a little concerned about the weather; the sky was a milky gray and white.

over the next several hours, the white clouds were pulled aside like a sheet of paper and the ship traveled over 100km into the geiranger fjord through some of the most spectacular scenery i'd ever seen [gallery]. i've tried to include other ships in the photos whenever possible to give some sense of scale. simply stunning. the deck on which i'd been amongst only a few others the day before was now overrun with people. into the mountains, clouds delicately draped over the mountain tops, farmhouses clinging to the steep hillsides, through the spear fjord and past the waterfalls known as the seven sisters and the suitor. finally to the town of geiranger where many people boarded another boat to go on a fairly expensive geiranger excursion [i passed on all of the excursions in part for financial reasons but mostly because i was seeing everything i wanted to see from the boat. i also didn't particularly like the wording of the catchphrase in the book which outlined the details of the excursions: 'those who choose to go ashore will see so much more.' my translation: 'give us your cash. now.'.] once all of the geiranger excursioners were gone (we'd pick them up in molde), i had my deck to myself once again. back out of the fjord for a second look at all of the magnificent mountains to dock in alesund again; the weather had changed significantly from this morning. on to molde; where i found this exploded bang snap on the sidewalk. a beautiful sun. i relaxed on the deck at midnight before retiring from this spectacular day.

posted by paul at Mon 11 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

10 July 2005

wide awake for the burning

my fifth day in bergen and the weather had returned to rain, finally. it was nice to see bergen be bergen again. a very nice town, but relatively small. i'd enjoyed my stay there, but i was fully bergened out and ready to move on. my ship wasn't scheduled to depart until 2000, but i wanted to check in early in case there were any issues with my ticket. my credit card had already been charged and the two ships were operated by different companies; i wanted to make sure my card wasn't charged again. packed and checked out; milled around with ben, a physicist from hong kong studying in san francisco. slight rain and mist. ben was leaving tonight on a night train to oslo. down to the train station with him so he could store his luggage and then back later to buy his ticket. we ran into magnus and spent some time talking with him outside one of the many 7-11's in the city. said our goodbyes [thanks again, magnus] and walked down to the harbor to watch the ms nordlys arrive; amazing docking agility. back to the hostel, i met canut from norway and jeremy from oregon; spent a few hours talking with them, posting a picture of the ship on the site and making final preparations.

i knew food on the ship was going to be expensive. stopped by a supermarket on the way down to the harbor to buy some bread and sandwich meat; i had to navigate the extremely narrow isles with THE pack on. very tight. kalkun is norwegian for turkey. skinke is norwegian for ham.

down to check in. yes, that will be 3667 kroner please. i explained that i'd booked the ticket over the internet and had canceled my trip on the ms kong harold when i'd reserved a spot on the ms nordlys. my credit card had already been charged. call into the central office; code green. got my boarding pass [i make fake id's if you're interested]. boarding at 6pm. i had some time. i sat down in the reception area, made a sandwich, and watched as the other passengers arrived. from the looks of it, i was going to be one of the youngest onboard; the average passenger was 67 and german. up to the boarding area; stood outside and took some pictures of the ship.

at 6:15pm i noticed the herd begin to board. i waited for the initial 'we must be the first ones aboard' rush to die down [i don't have much experience with public transportation in the states; but i've noticed in europe that there is much frenzy associated with boarding and exiting any type of vehicle, some instinctive need to be the first one on or off]. while the herd took a left through a doorway, i took a right and walked along the port side to the stern, climbed a staircase to the next higher deck, and sat down in a comfortable chair. i had more than an hour to kill and so i began reading a book i'd purchased in bergen [d-day by stephen ambrose; i decided it might be best to use discretion when reading this on a boat filled with 67 year old germans].

the ship pulled away minutes after eight, right on schedule. giant swelling excitement to see bergen from this new angle; i imagined what it must have been like for ships traveling to and from bergen five hundred years ago. up to the bow, i couldn't get enough of the scenery, taking in the water and the mountains. it was at this moment that i felt like i was truly going on an adventure. although the hurtigruten fleet had been sailing the coast of norway for over 100 years transporting goods and people to the far reaches of the country, i imagined i was leaving on a ship sailing into the unknown, the unexplored, where anything could happen. this wasn't a cruise ship; it was an important part of norway's shipping system. i felt privileged to be aboard.

information and safety meeting at 2100. back outside. i stayed outside for the rest of the evening taking in the rugged coastline, countless jagged islands amongst the rising mountains. i'll try my best with my camera, but like many of the other amazing things i've seen while traveling, i don't think the photos will ever come close. when i went to the bathroom to brush my teeth at approximately 0100, i realized i'd been burned yet again today, this time by the evening sun. interesting the way a sunburn makes one tired; i imagine the body is expending energy to repair the skin. [?]

i was one of a handful of passengers who hadn't rented a cabin aboard; this meant i'd be spending my nights in one of the ship's lounges. i was preparing to go to sleep when the ship called at the first port on our journey, floro, at 0215. absolutely incredible docking agility. i'm always so impressed when watching one of these large ships slide flawlessly into the dock. i wanted to stay awake through the night but i knew the ship would be passing through the geiranger fjord tomorrow and i wanted to be wide awake for the burning.

posted by paul at Sun 10 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

09 July 2005

glancing briefly through my eyes

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black sabbath was playing tonight and i needed to rearrange my travel plans to see them.

0900: call the hurtigruten office. the woman told me i'd need to call the individual ships and gave me the phone numbers; first the ship leaving tomorrow [ms nordlys] to make sure they had available room; second the ship leaving today [ms kong harold] to cancel my reservation. complete. complete. code green for metal. |m|/

0930: down to the post office to pick up the ticket. map; destination located; number 22. she didn't have the reservation number on file. called magnus to get his last name. reservation found. tiicket secured (above). complete. code green for metal. |m|/

1100: back to the hostel. across the street to pay and check into my new hostel. complete. no access to the room until 1200; i'd mill at the other hostel until then. code green for metal. |m|/

1110: email to the tromso hostel informing them i'd be arriving a day later than expected. complete. code green for metal. |m|/

1200: move into new hostel. no lockers. blah. elaborate locking system with pacsafe travel safe and two padlocks.

in three hours i'd rearranged all of my travel plans to stay in bergen one extra day, all in the name of metal. we were code green, devil horns locked and loaded for the show tonight. |m|/

unbelievably, it was the third consecutive sunny day in bergen, a city known for it's rainy weather. amazing. short walk into town, i found the location of the show and saw some 'no camera' signs. i'd seen many digital cameras at the nin and rammstein shows and was hoping to be able to take pictures at the concert tonight. code red, blah. back to the hostel to drop off my camera, grab my earplugs, and change into shorts. back into town.

my vip ticket gave me access to a pre-show performance by an ozzy tribute band. wow. WOW were those pants tight. i think the singer would have been arrested in the states; first by the fashion police for wearing skintight pleather and second by the local authorities for indecent exposure. in summary, he didn't look comfortable; they didn't look comfortable. i don't think even mid-80's big hair ozzy wore pants that tight. still, the guitarist was _tighter_; dead on, executing the solos perfectly, a metallic master. kick. the band sounded great and the vocals were excellent; ozzy would have appreciated the performance, if not the pants.

afer the nin and rammstein shows, i'd returned to the hostel soaked in sweat from heavy pit activity. i wasn't planning a repeat for the black sabbath show; wanted to stand back and watch the band perform and didn't want to have to worry about fighting the pit monsters. velvet revolver had been scheduled to open the show but had pulled out for one reason or another. two norwegian bands were booked to open the show. the first band, not so much. i believe they were from bergen and despite their unmetal rem-esque music they still got a good crowd reaction. the second band was heavier, but after the vocalist/guitarist walked out, he planted himself firmly in the middle of the stage and did not move for the entire set; the band gardener came out halfway through the set to check the soil ph and add some fertilizer. i prefer more mobile performers.

set changes were quick; drum kits on rollable risers. i'd like to see time lapse footage taken from above the crowd area to follow individual movement during a heavy music general admission show. in this instance, my movement. i know i wasn't conciously trying to find a different location, but by the end of the second band's set, i found i had moved from the far side of the stage to about fifteen rows back and about five meters stage left of center and was standing in some type of hole. perfect. i'd need to change my position once sabbath started playing.

silence. ozzy screamed and sang the first part of a popular european sports chant; the crowd completed it. again; completed. he screamed again, declaring that he wasn't going to come out if the crowd wasn't 'crazy enough'. intro music began to play a medley of sabbath songs, mostly guitar riffs, some vocals. i didn't like this intro at all; why play recordings of songs that you're about to play live? still, forgivable. the band walked onstage and the crowd surged forward; me along with it. this was the first time i've seen a band walk onstage at the beginning of a large show and not immediately kick into a song. legends. the band looked great and ozzy was smiling widely, almost too widely, unflinchingly wide.

the band kicked into nativity in black and i forgot about ozzy's smile and became a part of the surging crowd, moving with and against the music. i soon found myself in the center of the stage, so close to the front that the sound i was hearing was coming mostly from the amps and monitors onstage rather than from the gigantic stacks of speakers on either side. ozzy ran frantically all over the stage, occasionally remembering that he was the vocalist at which points he would quickly run back to the microphone only to find that he'd forgotten the lyrics. i couldn't believe it. another first for me; i'd never before seen a band of that caliber come so closely to disintegrating midsong onstage. during the second song, after forever [which i was so incredibly psyched that they played; amazing riff, mr. iommi], ozzy actually completed a verse with mumbles and grunts rather than lyrics. all one hundred percent forgivable; legendary.

show highlights:

01. during the second song, after forever, i decided i didn't want to wear my ear plugs any longer. i was so close to the stage that the speaker stacks weren't hitting me at all, i was getting only the stage volume and i wanted to absorb the music at another level. shortly after i removed the earplugs, a giant norwegian leaned over to my ear and asked me [norwegian] very loudly. ouch. i'm sorry, i only speak english. [click] 'i'm right behind you. i'll look out for you.' [holds hand up. we lock hands, bonding in some type of metal moment that only occurs in the front five rows of a very loud metal show. stay evil, my giant norwegian friend.] problem: he'd screamed far too loudly into my ear, overcompensating for the loud music; i've experienced that situation before many times before. ouch. i knew later that night my sweet tone angels would visit me as i tried to fall asleep.

02. over the course of the next few songs, i was pushed forward into row three, center. there i encountered a large bald man, mid-20's, [i'll call him vigor, pronounced vee-gor] with an insensed expression on his face as if he didn't know where he was, pale blue eyes wide open, staring into a nothingness. vigor, along with the rest of us, was being crushed from all angles and it was unclear whether or not he was enjoying himself or wanted to extricate himself from the situation. i asked him if he was all right and he didn't answer, glancing briefly through my eyes, still staring into the void. apparently vigor had been causing a disruption earlier; the man one row in front of him was waving widely to the security personnel to try to get them to remove him from the crowd area. problem: the only way out was over the barrier in front of the stage and vigor was a large man. when security came over and asked him to move forward so that they could pull him out, vigor shook his head no. interestingly, later in the show, a man larger than vigor was willingly pulled out over the barrier by three security guards as everyone in the crowd looked on in awe. i looked at a random with a 'wow' expression on my face; he returned the expression.

03. the performance of war pigs. a level beyond, trans:incendiary. ozzy was in full zone. absolutely brilliant. war pigs is not close to my favorite sabbath song, but this performance made it magic.

04. i miss my combat boots. truly. these hiking boots i purchased in north carolina in order to disassociate myself with the military and to better blend into the average global society are not cutting it at metal shows. in addition to the distinctive non-metal exterior, the laces have come untied at both the rammstein and black sabbath shows. this is not a fun experience when one is in the midst of a franticly moving crowd; the untied laces are easily trampled and it's very hard to keep one's footing during the intense swaying. despite my best efforts to tie the laces tightly, the laces came untied three times during the black sabbath show. in all three occasions when i leaned down to tie them, kind people around me realized what i was doing and did their best to fend off the hordes and stabilize me as i balanced on one foot. i sensed the third unlacing at the beginning of ironman; the bass drum was pounding and i knew it was only a moment before mr. iommi began playing the main riff at which point the crowd would move and one of my boots would be anchored firmly to the ground, laces trampled, putting me in a precarious situation. i leaned down quickly and began the tying process and made it back to the surface one second before the riff. kick.

05. at some point during a particularly heavy moment when i was taken over by the music and wasn't thinking clearly, i reached over and grabbed the fist of a random [i'll call him olav], pulled it up into the air, and pried open his index and pinky fingers, forming the extended devil horns. once olav had realized what i had done, he looked at me and said 'no, double the evil.' and put both fists together, crossing his wrists so that the pinky fingers were touching, and extended both index fingers to form double the evil. olav had gone one level above; i'd been outdone.

the band ended with paranoid and left the stage. ozzy had completely destroyed his voice and was barely able to talk. i didn't think they'd be out for an encore, but sure enough, back out to end with children of the grave. amazing. ozzy basically talked the lyrics. at the end of the show, the four band members all walked to the middle of the stage and bowed, a perfect ending to a powerful show. thank you, gentlemen.

back to the hostel, soaked in sweat as before, so looking forward to a hot shower. i let the water run in the first shower for a full five minutes and the water remained a chilling cold. the second shower was the same, unfortunately, and i had to suffer through a very cold experience. i counted to three outloud before the final rinse. spent the rest of the night writing; met a bergen local who was hanging out at the hostel. when i asked why he'd be hanging out at a hostel bar, he told me it was part of the unknown bergen underground. i had my doubts.

posted by paul at Sat 09 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

08 July 2005

the hole in the sky had devoured his voice

originally my day of departure; now my spare day of rest and relaxation. it was another of the few and far between, the sun shown brightly. i'd scheduled minor missions to replace my lost bandana, possibly purchase a hat for the potentially cold arctic weather, and maybe look for some music (i'd read about some norwegian music that had been inspired by the fjord areas through which i'd be traveling on the hurtigruten). in total, i didn't have much planned; walk, relax, prepare. in the morning i bought a bolling skilla (sugar roll) and a sprite (sprite) at the supermarket near my hostel and went down to this park to look through a bergen tourist guide to see if there was anything i'd want to do. the arboretum looked interesting, but i'd need to take a bus and i wasn't really in the mood to navigate local bus schedules. what i was really in the mood for was a nice leprosy museum.

centuries ago bergen had been a leprosy hotspot and st. jorgen's hospital was the biggest treatment facility for the disease in norway. written accounts date the first hospital building back to 1411. over the centuries: fire, demolition, inferno and devastation. i don't think i've been to a european city that has not burned down, in part or in whole. [this makes me wonder how giant stone cathedrals burn down. how does stone burn? comments requested.]

the present st. jorgen's building dates to the eighteenth century and now houses the leprosy museum. really not much there; several informational displays in norwegian in the old patient rooms. english translations were provided on several laminated handouts. some interesting pictures, lancing equipment, one decaying foot, still decaying. i occasionally take notes at museums if i find the information interesting; research later; post some statistics on this site. as i was taking notes from the translation, the young museum attendant walked over and timidly suggested that if i was interested much of the information in the museum exhibits was also contained in a book about the history of st. jorgen's as a leprosy treatment facility; the book was for sale for forty kroner. i thanked her and scanned the book. there they were... the exhibit translations, word for word. it wasn't clear which had come first; the museum exhibits or the book. also not clear was the museum attendant's motivation; was she genuinely trying to help me or did the museum not want any of the patrons to record any of the information? i'd already paid thirty kroner to visit the museum; now i felt like it was inappropriate to take notes of the exhibits. blah. not sure of the protocol here... is it inappropriate to take notes at museums? is the material copyrighted? does norway have copyright laws?

i'll include only one bit of information here. one of the exhibitions contained a quote from an uncompleted letter by a former leprosy patient at st. jorgen's. in severe cases of the disease, the eyes of the sufferer fill with fluid and often swell shut. 'if the lord but was allowed to open up our eyes, we would surely have reason to complain of the state of our hearts. we would see how satan and our sins have mauled us [...]'. quite sad to think these poor people were often isolated and mistreated.

i returned to the hostel and met a new roommate, magnus from norway, who was in town as part of a job and had decided to stay an extra night to see black sabbath[and in the following instant infinitely short, the sky cracked open high above and all of the air of the world was withdrawn violently into that scar, wretching, gasping. and with it all sound was carried away, and i looked at magnus and saw his mouth moving slowly, but i heard no sound, the hole in the sky had devoured his voice. only silence remained. what did he just say?]

me: did you say... black sabbath?'

magnus: 'yes, they're playing here in bergen tomorrow.'

me: 'tomorrow??? at what time?'

magnus: 'i think around 7:30pm.'

not a month or a week or a day before as so often has happened before; no, the godfathers of all that was metal were playing merely _hours_ after i was scheduled to depart bergen on the hurtigruten. but i wasn't going to be departing on the hurtigruten tomorrow merely hours before. no. i was going to be in the crowd absorbing the godfathers of metal: bill ward, geezer butler, tony iommi, and the prince of fucking darkness himself, ozzy osbourne. the blackest sabbath.

switch into mission mode. [click]

01: a ticket. magnus said he could reserve a ticket for me via the internet using his account. no fee for making the reservation; if i didn't pick up the ticket i wouldn't be charged. only vip tickets were available; 850 kroner [cringe]. [reminder: black sabbath] magnus made the reservation. [thank you so much magnus! really appreciate your help.]

02: my boat. the hurtigruten ticket from bergen to tromso had cost significantly more than my unused plane ticket to trondheim. significantly. i wouldn't be able to justify staying for the show if i couldn't move the departure date back one day or get a refund for the ticket price. i called the main booking number; recording in norwegian. 2230; i forgot how late it was; if you recall, i'd lost it entirely. a woman who worked at the hostel, lena, offered to translate the recording; the office reopened at 0900 tomorrow; i'd need to call back. [thanks lena!]

03: accomodation in bergen. the hostel i'd been staying in, marken gesthjus, was full the night of the show; i'd need to move. lena suggested the jacob's dormitory across the street. i walked across the street and checked; they had space for me.

04: accomodation in tromso. i'd already reserved and paid for a hostel in tromso. i'd need to contact the hostel and push back my arrival date one day, but only if i could move by hurtigruten departure date. i'd need to wait until tomorrow.

the plan was in motion, all in the name of metal; i'd wake up tomorrow and call the hurtigruten office right at 0900. i spent the rest of the evening hanging out with magnus. my first night out in a while, and after two beers [hell, after one beer] i was static uncontrollably. we met kurt when we returned to the hostel. he convinced me that i had made the right decision rescheduling all of my travel arrangements. [watch kurt's redition of ironman; avi movie file; 6mb; 90 degree offset.]

posted by paul at Fri 08 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

07 July 2005

the few and far between

the days have been tremendously long in scandanavia; since copenhagen my internal clock has been thrown off by the long light days. here in bergen, there's a late afternoon light still at 2200; it's very easy to lose track of time. in fact, i've lost it entirely. in the mornings, the brightness begins at approximately 0430 and has been waking me up, my body programmed to respond to morning light. now that morning light kicks in at 0430, however, i'd like to reset the program; i've tried unsuccessfully at the moment when my conciousness takes control from autopilot at 0430. the system has locked me out. the shades in most hostels don't block much light, unfortunately; i think i'll be reduced to wearing those disturbing traveler eye shades. a reduction. on the first morning of my stay in copenhagen, the top tier of terror was positioned perfectly (designed by some malicious morning person no doubt; blah, morning people) so that the sunlight hit one end of the bed in early morning. the first night i slept with my head on that end and was awakened the next morning not by the light strangely enough but by the sensation of my skin burning; i was shocked awake burning and sweating. better my feet than my face the next two mornings. here in bergen, my bed was again positioned by a window and this morning the sunlight woke me up yet again. i looked outside and it looked like i was going to experience one of the few and far between sunny days in bergen.

i spent most of the day outside exploring the areas that i'd already explored in the rain the day before. the bryggen area is a popular german tourist destination; i saw and heard hordes of germans.

a funicular [funicular; interesting word] up the side of the mountain near the center of town. not for me, i'd make my way up under my own power. back and forth upward to the beautiful views of bergen, finally to the top. some delicious ice cream. back down into town, i waited for _five_ hours for a bird to fly directly over the spot i'd just been so that i could properly point out the area. wow, what a tremendous waste of time. no, not really, but the bird does make a nice pointer. not quite a bird, a pigeon, plague of the city.

while walking around, i noticed that all bergen parks were packed with people young and old sunning themselves on this few and far between.

hungry, i stopped by the supermarket near the hostel and picked up some more lettuce and tomatoes. i needed another delicious salad; giant salad cravings, take advantage of the kitchens. back at the hostel around 4pm. i really wanted to get back outside to the nice weather but i still had travel plans to make and so again i jumped on my computer and started digging through the websites for the hurtigruten, the buses, and hostels. hours, really.

in my research, i learned that the hurtigruten ships stop in geiranger on the northbound journey in the summer. samuel had told me that the geiranger fjord is one of the most beautiful; a 'textbook' fjord from something i read later. i spent much time investigating the north cape area (the northermost tip of norway (and of europe for that matter))... transportation and accomodation options and costs. after much deliberating, i decided to take the hurtigruten from bergen to tromso up the norwegian coast, passing through the geiranger fjord, past trondheim (my flight destination), into the arctic circle, through the lofoten islands (for more incredible scenery), finally to tromso, where the sun never sets. i figured i hadn't had enough sunlight in my life lately; why not completely destroy my sleep schedule with a nice midnight sunlit walk. i didn't think the opportunity would present itself again anytime soon; exploit my location. i'd stay in tromso for three nights and then work my way south and spend some time in the lofoten islands. this new plan of course meant that i wouldn't be using the plane ticket i'd booked to trondheim the night before; wasted money, but i was beyond excited about my new plans. my spontaneous norwegian adventure; from not at all to several weeks, the benefits of traveling without constraints and predetermined schedules. internet booking for the ship leaving tomorrow had closed, so i booked the saturday departure and then a hostel in tromso. this would put me in bergen an extra day; no problem, i'd use it to prepare for my journey at sea. booked another night at the hostel.

posted by paul at Thu 07 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

06 July 2005

long before was nothing

another rainy day in bergen. one statistic i read indicated it rains 275 days out of the year here. a mist, really, and nothing that was going to prevent me from exploring the new city.

i broke out my jacket; the first time in more than a month. bergen is a port city on the west coast of norway surrounded by mountains; i decided to head to the southern side of the city to look for a mist filled scenic walk along the water. at the water, i found the industrial side of bergen, less than scenic, cranes and construction, barriers and boxes, stone and cement. i walked as close to the water as i could get, but the industrial metal on my left kept pace with me with each step and so i decided to cut back inside away from the edge, over to the 'pretty' harbor. on my way, i found the work of the bergen jedi club and evidence of the dark side. the rain thickened, clouds clinging closely to the mountain, low and heavy; i eventually broke out my umbrella. down some stairs to the harbor and a bustling fish market. i saw a very flat fish, but not like a flounder, this rightside up, dark almost black, with a very wide flat mouth filled with small sharp spiny teeth. a man behind the counter asked me something in norwegian; i told him i only spoke english; he asked me where i was from. he'd never been to the states, but knew boston was by the sea, asked me if there was a big fish market there. i told him i thought so, but that i didn't eat much fish unfortunately.

i walked on along the harbor near the bryggen area, to st. mary's church, the oldest building in bergen. it was here that someone stole my shot; i spent a few minutes taking various shots of this tree because i liked the way the trunk twisted. i was conscious that someone was watching me on my right; when i walked away he moved in quickly and took a picture of the same tree.

to the bryggen museum where i learned about that small area, a few centuries ago the main center of trade in bergen with a strong german presence. the city has burned several times and in the 1950's the area was at risk of being completely demolished, many norwegians felt that the area controlled by the germans long before was nothing of historical significance, nothing to keep. excavations later uncovered the oldest buildings in the area were truly norwegian, and in the 1960's the decision was made to conserve the area. efforts continue today. the buildings listing dramatically, the foundations rotting and crumbling. narrow alleys. excavations also uncovered pieces of a large norwegian boat, reconstructed in the museum.

still the light rain, i ventured up the hill on the way back to the hostel, hoping i'd be lucky enough to experience one of the 90 clear days tomorrow. i really enjoy taking photos and the rain makes it difficult.

in my room at the hostel, i spoke with two americans and felt the traveler competion feeling; then spoke with samuel, from france, and the feeling went away. he'd studied in trondheim and was very interested in my trip; hoped to travel extensively one day. we spoke briefly about travel in asia and he gave me some advice. thanks samuel! nice to meet you.

in the kitchen; the staple traveler food: spaghetti. most importantly, another fresh crispy salad with lots of balsamic vinegar. salt.

i found an open internet access point and spent the entire evening researching travel plans, sitting in the same spot for hours on the computer as room mates came and went. i definitely wanted to head further north, but wasn't exactly sure how i was going to get there. there are no rails up the west coast from bergen to trondheim (a fact i didn't realize until i got here), so the train wasn't an option. samuel was on his way to trondheim and told me that he had found a cheap fare on scandanavian airlines. i checked their website and found a 45 usd flight that left on friday. i'd delayed in this type of situation before and when i went to book the ticket later, the price had gone up, so i fired quickly; even if i decided to change my plans, i was losing at most 60 usd (with taxes); not trivial, but it wasn't going to kill my budget. so, fly to trondheim and then hurtigruten ship farther north, perhaps to the north cape. it was late by the time i'd found and booked the flight; i'd do more research into transportation tomorrow. sleep.

posted by paul at Wed 06 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

05 July 2005

a chilling cold, burning

i was TRUCKING, hammer down in the hammer lane in my shiny black 1979 kenworth hauling 23 ton of ASS down the hill, blowing the doors off of dead pedal four wheelers in the granny lane... i had somewhere to be.

[rewind]

train to oslo today, 10:35am departure. when i'd purchased my ticket online, i'd selected the option to pick it up on the train ('hentig i tog' in norwegian) and had selected the 'minipris' fare option which was substantially cheaper than the other tickets. i wanted to get to the train station with enough time to ask a ticketing agent if there were any special stipulations (under 26, student, etc.) for the minipris fare and just wanted to confirm receipt of the ticket on the train.

woke up at 8:45am, later than i'd intended. franz asked me if i'd be joining him to the national gallery; i think he had misunderstood an earlier conversation when i told him i'd be departing today. sorry, sir, i'm leaving for bergen today; train leaves at 10:35am. despite the time, i didn't want to pass up the free breakfast. into the dining area; franz joined me five minutes later and told me he'd accompany me to the train station. very nice guy full of smiles. i excused myself from the table and told him i was going to pack.

9:05am. my level of comfort with hostel living has increased significantly over the past three months; i've become lax in maintaining my belongings in a neat orderly pile in the hostel rooms. pack pack, things spread all over. franz came into the room and asked if he could help me carry anything. no, i think i'm fine, thank you. he insisted however, and i gave him my daypack (containing computer, guidebook, train ticket reference number printout, and various other important things) to carry. the hostel was a five minute walk from the nearest tram stop; a ten minute tram ride from the city center and the train station. the tram came every twenty minutes; next at 9:20am. franz said he was going to start walking down to the tram stop. 'i'm slower than you.' and with that he left the room with my daypack. i stared at the closed door for about 10 seconds with mouth wide open before continuing to assemble my belongings. wow, i just entrusted my pack to an almost complete stranger. i imagined franz laughing maniacally while running quickly to his getaway car, a black bmw with tinted windows. he'd successfully hustled me and now had my confidential data. impressive. [for those of you who missed yesterday's entry; this is franz.]

9:15am. still packing. okay, franz had my daypack with computer and train ticket reference number printout and was most likely down at the tram stop. the tram was due in five minutes and it was going to take me five minutes to walk down to the hill. i need to move. everything in THE pack, still straining. strap it on, click click. quick survey of the room. looks good, nothing forgotten.

9:18am. outside, walking. in the distance, i saw franz standing at the tram stop. what a nice guy, he hadn't stolen my daypack. plenty of time, no problem, the tram wouldn't arrive right at 9:20am. i was walking briskly.

9:19am. i see the tram coming down the track to the tram station. [internal scream: noooooo!] wow, i don't think i'm going to make this tram. wondered if franz would board and wait for me at the train station or if he'd just wait for me at the stop.

it is at this point that the flashback ends and i promptly boarded my truck, a shiny black 1979 kenworth triaxle, and started hauling ass down the hill, my pack bouncing up and down on my back. three months on the road has done much to improve my load bearing capabilities and i was _running_ full speed down the hill... i had somewhere to be, copy? and damn if i didn't make that tram thanks to franz. he was up at the front obviously delaying the driver from departing; i cruised around the back of the tram and he saw me and smiled. onoard. sweating from the one minute burst of speed and adrenaline. i shook franz' hand and thanked him for doing whatever he did to hold the train. kick. i spend the next few minutes recovering.

at the train station i checked in with a ticket agent; no problem with my ticket. all was good. i said my goodbyes to franz and asked him for his address. thank you, sir. it's been a pleasure.

stocked up on some snapple refreshment. been into the fruit punch flavor lately. very tasty. refreshing and tasty.

i'd read that the train from oslo to bergen went through some amazing landscapes. while i was tired from the night before, i don't think i slept more than a minute. utterly beautiful snow capped mountains dropping down into icey blue lakes, gently pouring, flowing rivers narrowing to explosive rapids. if only i hadn't been on the train, i'd have stood until i became a chilling cold, burning the scenery into. pictures out of train windows are not worthy; pictures altogether are not worthy; they can't ever. i was going to extend my norwegian adventure.

the hostel is amazing and the rain gives me a chance to do some writing.

posted by paul at Tue 05 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

04 July 2005

there are other places that sparkle

the hostel provides free breakfast. i've filled up both days and intend to do the same tomorrow. sandwiches. ham and cheese. my roommate, franz, is an older gentleman, austrian, 80. he speaks mostly in german and translates into broken english when i give him confused 'i don't understand' looks. we spoke for a while last night about our plans today; this morning when i woke at 8:30am it seemed he was waiting for me. he commented on the weather and said we would have a good day; that it was 8:30 and that we still had a lot of time. i wondered if i'd committed to spending the day with him, the language barrier perhaps creating a misunderstanding. i leaned to the side by myself, but not hard, thinking it would be interesting to spend the day with him. he joined me at breakfast and asked what i'd be doing today. ah, no misunderstanding. i told him i'd be visiting the viking ship museum and then planned to go to the national gallery and finally to the vigeland park. he asked if i wanted to meet at the national gallery at twelve o'clock. 'how about one?' i asked. 'ok, one o'clock.'

hmm, i was on a schedule. 9:30 by the time i got out of the hostel... this gave me only a couple hours to see the museum. constrained. i didn't like that feeling. i looked at a map. blah, the museum was on the opposite side of oslo, across the harbor. guide number one gave no transport recommendations; guide number two gave ferry details. arrival at the ferry dock at 10:30; onboard, i spoke with americans and wished them a happy fourth of july. i liked them even before they told me they'd been farther north and overflowed with recommendations for the hurtigruten. no time for sleep, they said, as you don't want to miss any of the scenery. i'd been on the edge and they pushed me in.

at the museum by 11. two beautiful ships and a third, incomplete, all three burial vessels. a sled isolated for conservation. one of the most interesting were the pictures of the excavations taken in the late 1800's. i was finished with the museum truly by 12, glad that i didn't have the rushed still wanting more feeling.

ferry back and a walk to the national gallery. i saw franz standing outside reading a guide. no others around. the national gallery was closed on mondays [the wasteland, desolate; the wind picks up and carries with it a faint scream growing glowing black to red]. many museums close on mondays in europe and for that reason i had consulted _both_ guides (lonely planet and use it's streetwise guide to oslo) which _both_ indicated the gallery was open on monday. damn. edvard munch's the scream was inside. waiting, screaming, and me along with it.

we decided to visit the edvard munch museum. franz had the transport details. we found the stop with a bit of effort; the museum a short walk away. airport security metal detector; two paintings, the scream and madonna, were stolen from this museum last august [one story]. the vampire. many self portraits. beautiful use of color, the purples pulling me in for a closer look and i imagined the paint being applied to the canvas. interesting paintings and titles:

inside us are worlds
the splitting of faust
self portrait during the eye disease
the artist with skull: optical illusion during the eye disease

i'll need to do a bit of munch research to see exactly what this eye disease is all about.

to vigeland park and its central hellraising phallic symbol. writhing. crawling. if i'd been by myself, i'd have spent hours in this park examining all of the sculptures, wandering and relaxing. i didn't mind franz' company however, and i think he enjoyed spending the day with me. it seemed he felt honored that i'd want to take his picture. we sat on a bench for half an hour before leaving. i wanted to ask him about wwii but decided that might be inappropriate.

i'll be leaving oslo tomorrow and i feel that it's too soon. i haven't fully explored the city. i think two days more would be best, but i'd already booked my non-refundable train ticket over to bergen, leaving tomorrow morning. i feel like i don't know the lay of the oslo land, never took the new city walk. for this new city i had read guidebooks the night before and created a list of sites that i wanted to see; yesterday i took public transportation to those sites. while this new approach did give me an unforgettable experience the brightest and darkest which i would have otherwise missed, the lack of the walk left me wanting more, wondering if there are other places that sparkle, unexplored and waiting for me. waiting. i'm leaving her before we're both ready.

posted by paul at Mon 04 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

03 July 2005

undying fading and then gone

20050703001.jpg

for all of the times i've arrived a day after;

for all of the times i'd be departing a day before;

for all of the times the place was closed for the day;

for all of the times the weather prevented;

for all of those times:

i have _this_ day. _THIS DAY_.

the emmanuel vigeland museum in oslo, norway, only opens for four hours a week, on sunday between 12pm and 4pm. today was sunday and i arrived at 1pm after the tram and a walk down streets which do not seem like they lead to a museum, houses and children. the brick building, she tells me i must put these socklike covers over my shoes [what is this place?], that photography is not allowed, and that cell phones must be turned off.

i motion to the small door, 'through here?'

'yes,' she replies with a smile.

i pull the door open, heavy. through, bending, into darkness, one room. i turn around and pull the door shut. turn around.

through the darkness of the one room, i barely see two others against the far wall, whispering soft whispers, all around. unbeliever, is this truly happening naturally? and as i try to absorb, i must accept that it is. soft whispers, all around. believer, one second is ten seconds in this one room, and here within, the walls allow the whispers to live longer than i have _EVER in my life_ heard before. [listen] i have never before, and filled with the newness of this one room i click my tongue to hear a sound live like it could never live outside of these walls. on my left i see the forms, in reddish brown, monotone, on the walls dimly illuminated, but my eyes are still not entirely ready to see through the darkness. truly magical, if ever a place were. the whispers stop, and the others stop moving, and i stop, and there is nothing, and through it all i hear the familiar tone in my head, there always during absolute silence, i imagine it will speak nothings to me during silence until i die. while the walls are absolute. seconds later the whispers make me forget. and finally my eyes are ready, able to see the people on the walls, tangled together, on my left women and children, and a sculpture of birth, and i walk softly around. slowly. moments. and i'm aware that the two others have walked to the door

and i shut my eyes tightly as they open it. and then i'm alone and i open my eyes.

silence and darkness and magic and the smallest walking sound gigantic undying fading and then gone. i continue walking softly around, men and women twisted together on the walls and in two sculptures, and further above the door, highlighted, two skeletons, one upon the other. dimly lit from the floor to the curving ceiling. and i'm alone in this magic room and i am so lucky. so.

i stand with back against the door and look up and do nothing but let my eyes be burned with this. and moments drift by and i'm alone in this magic.

burn

until

i hear voices muffled beyond and i know that others are coming, and soon they do, with voices and laughter and all those things which carve away at the magic. i politely inform one that photography is not permitted here, her scanning each five feet of the wall with a camera shot, the light flashing, the click echoing. some things i believe are too powerful to be photographed, and if ever one, this; this is one which must be experienced _here_, how could a picture _!EVER!_?

as i'm writing this, i'm listening to music that was recorded within the walls, a beautiful and clear voice singing haunting norwegian folk songs, and i'm reminded of the one room earlier today. the memory burned.

[all else is nothing compared: i spent ninety minutes in the morning updating the site, i walked along some trails at the highest point in oslo on a ski mountain near a television tower, desperately trying to find some type of clear view of the city which never really came. a picture can sometimes capture a building or a person well, but never really a spreading view, and never the magic of anything. the walk along the trail was a small taste of what i needed. oslo is what i needed, a place to get farther away, and i'm going farther still. i took the tram down from the mountain and got off at a random stop where it seemed others were getting off; i figured there must be something worthwhile there. the national gallery, but it was closed by that time, i'll see it tomorrow. i walked more to the water, the port of oslo and finally up to an embankment overlooking the port, sitting down and watching, and here i put on the cd for the first time, and as i watched the ships in the water and as the first song played the haunting melody pulled back memories of the one room and my head felt like it would if at the end of the best long movie a character who i'd grown to love (and who other characters in the movie had also loved) died. i sat there for two hours listening and watching. so amazing the way music brings back memories and emotions. _so_. inconsequentially, i lost my bandana somewhere today. i'm glad i came to norway. i'll add that sometimes i think i don't realize how much i walk in a day. at the end of this one, i was very tired. i feel my schedule shifting from night to day; i now wake up at 8am and i'm tired by midnight, with sleep soon after. i wonder how my body will deal with an unsetting sun if i make it that far north.]

posted by paul at Sun 03 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (5)

02 July 2005

berzerker and god of thunder

travel day to oslo, norway, through sweden, my bus was leaving at 1:15pm. checkout at the sleep-in heaven was 10am, on the earlier side of hostel checkout times. not much time to sleep in and the room wasn't very heavenly. blick, the three tiers of doom. packed up and left the room; chilled in the lounge reading an english language danish newspaper until about 11:30am. american president bush would be visiting denmark in a few days; security precautions were being taken. walk with the pack down to the bus station. the bus was waiting, a nice big 'oslo' sign in the window. kick. thirty minutes early. should probably ask the driver if this is definitely the right bus. i resolved to mill about for five minutes before asking the driver. milling time is important.

milling. a guy with long blonde heathen hair i'd put at 16 or 17 walked up to me and asked me something in [i assume] danish.

me: do you speak english?

heathen: [facial expression like he had to make some internal adjustments in order to switch over to english] are you waiting for the bus to oslo?

me: yes. is this the right bus?

heathen: no. i showed him my ticket and he said the ticket isn't for his bus.

showed me his ticket... exactly the same ticket as mine. joy. okay, where was our bus? [i never got the heathen's name, so i'll call him 'berzerker'. berzerker had just come from the roskilde music festival with his friend whose name i also never learned. his friend, who also had long heathen hair, didn't say much and was armed with a bright orange backpack and an acoustic guitar with a 'be a dick' sticker on it. very typical when i meet two guys: one does the majority of the talking; the other is silent, only speaking in his native language to the other. i'll call berzerker's friend 'god of thunder'. both were from norway, about 90km south of oslo.]. berzerker said god of thunder had asked the driver about our bus and that it was supposed to arrive soon. said he saw sabbath at the roskilde festival. i asked him how ozzy did... 'sick'. i asked him about the metal situation in norway... must be an evil death metal scene? berzerker said the metal scene in norway sucked and that most good shows happened in sweden. kick. i decided that berzerker and god of thunder both rocked harder than hard.

our bus finally arrived. got on and then waited for a late bus with connections from paris to arrive, about thirty minutes after our scheduled departure time. blah. depart. bus driver spoke mostly in english. very funny guy. very dry sense of humor, he spoke slowly, monotone.

one hour to malmo, sweden. swedish customs officer boards and conducts a person to person interrogation. 'i'm american. i'm going to oslo.' end of interrogation.

i lost the 'must.stay.awake.to.avoid.missing.any.scenery' attitude during this trip. i inflated my travel pillow and soon got comfortable. i had no norwegian doom metal loaded on my treo, so drifted in and out while listening to metal [damn those are some fine jeans]. the swedish countryside wasn't very different from pennsylvania.

stop at a swedish rest area. i asked berzerker what currency they would accept. god of thunder said they would take danish money. i only had a few danish kroner remaining. bought a coke, a kingsize twix, and an orange using my credit card.

berzerker and god of thunder got off the bus at the stop before oslo. stradsborg. berzerker extended his hand. stay evil, ye lords of norwegian black metal. |m|/

arrival in oslo one hour and fifteen minutes late. bus driver: 'and of course we're an hour and fifteen minutes late. sorry. but what can i do? nothing.'

i should have peed on the bus, but who wants to use one of those bus bathrooms? in the bus station... bathroom, bathroom... ah, there it is. GRR. 10 norwegian kroner to use the facilities. i needed to get money out of the atm regardless. hmm, the atm didn't dispense any 10 kroner coins, how unusual. okay, i didn't have to go that badly. i walked out of the bus station and began scanning for public transportation. i knew i had to take tram 17, but i didn't know where the closest tram stop was, the cost of a ticket, if a could pay with a 200 kroner note or if i had to have exact change... okay, yes i did have to go that badly. i needed a 10 kroner coin, pronto. back into the bus station... no open stores. across the street in the train station i found a convenience store and bought a coke. there it was, like one of wonka's golden tickets... the 10 kroner coin. rush back across the street... insert coin... open door... some guy pushed in behind me before the door closed, freeloading on my 10 kroner coin. damn you. i didn't care. more important matters to attend to.

okay... transportation. back over to the train station where there seemed to be more action. ah, tourist information booth. got the transportation information as well as a use it oslo guide [if you remember from a previous entry, i found use it's copenhagen guide extremely helpful]. located the tram stop. a very nice couple [i'd put the accent on scottish] helped me navigate the ticket dispenser [no english labels; only norwegian] as well as find the correct tram [the first tram i boarded was going in the wrong direction]. thank you nice people. tram -> correct stop. a sign pointed the way to the hostel, seemingly into nowhere. without my gps i would have wandered for much longer than i did. i'll refrain from going on and on [again] about how much time my gps has saved me. got into the hostel at midnight; they didn't have my reservation but had an open bed. two were already asleep in the room. i unpacked quietly, went back to the lounge and read the use it guide... finally to sleep.

posted by paul at Sat 02 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

01 July 2005

in my mind's wasteland

my second day in copenhagen. a few steps out the hostel door, the zaps in my toes told me that they'd like some attention. i briefly considered ignoring their requests before turning around and heading back inside. hmm, interesting blister pattern. nothing serious, nothing that would stop me, nothing could. nothing. blister kit, equipped and unstoppable. never used one of these before: tape, moisture pads, friction absorbers. tape tape, boots on, zaps gone. _out_

i needed to formalize some plans. my first night at the hostel had impressed me to head north, away from it. just away. that feeling had faded somewhat, but quickly remembered, the intensity then, and i thought better than to question it. north, to oslo then. i located the internet cafe [no wifi or laptop access, blah] and tried to book a bus to oslo for the next day, but the site indicated that online tickets could only be purchased three days in advance. i'd need to go to the bus station to purchase the ticket in person. transportation and accomodation arrangements must fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. usually best to investigate prices and availability for both before committing. sometimes the pieces don't always fit together perfectly. i committed internally to the trip north. three nights, two days in oslo. booked a train to bergen on the west coast. hostels fell into place nicely. three nights in bergen. north, where now the sun never sets. i investigated prices for the hurtigruten, a fleet of boats which travel the coast of norway from bergen to the far north. prices seemed prohibitive, but i resolved to investigate transportation options further while in bergen. internet plans in place. over to the bus station to buy my ticket, hopefully there was still room. done. pretty girl. 298 kroners.

slight digression on the money. i know one euro is a little more than a dollar. but kroner? the exchange rate is something like seven kroner per dollar. this makes it a bit more difficult to make the calculations back to dollar. money here in denmark has become more about a meaningless number. 298 kroners? okay, sure, what does that mean? this way of thinking is good but mostly bad.

i wanted to fit in another walking tour to the christianhavn area and also take a canal ride. first, the walk, but on the way to the start point, i passed a boat soon departing on an hour long tour of the canals. thirty kroners. the sign indicated there were tours in danish, english, german, and french. wondered if this boat was the english version... maybe a different language every hour? 'is this tour in english?' 'yes.' interesting the way tone can give additional meaning to a word. i inferred 'yes, now give me your thirty kroner and take a seat you one in a million touristas i see every day. i'm bored of this job and have better things to do.' the travel planning had eaten up a good portion of the day, into the afternoon. there were several other canal tour companies, but the timing was right here and the sand was running, so i decided to take the tour. the boat departed and the yes man [joy, he was the tour guide] began speaking in danish. [in my mind's wasteland the wind picked up and i raised a fist in the air defiantly and screamed 'nooo!', formulating plans to throw the man overboard and take back my thiry kroners.] then the man repeated himself in english. and then in french. no germans on board. perfect. of course each version is going to be slightly different; i wondered what i'd be missing. the boat moved smoothly through the water, barely fitting beneath the arches of the bridges, the best part. i'd seen most of the sites from land. my first impression of the guide held true; several times he forgot the english translation as if he couldn't be bothered. the hour went by quickly, but i was only slightly more informed at the end of it all.

continuing to christianhavn, i saw this guy retrorocking the dual cassette deck boom box on his bike. the spiraling tower. onward to christiana, copenhagen's free area independant state (as declared by a bunch of random freethinkers [hippies] in 1971). i got a slice of pizza and ate in a christiana square [?]. one building had large circle/slash 'no cameras' signs. if i lived in this area, i'd paint the same signs on my house, damned touristas. i concealed my guidebook and tried to remember the walking tour route. a nice path, but soon there was no one else around and i became slightly nervous. empty city streets and residential areas aren't usually the best idea, so my instinct tells me. walk a bit faster, past houses and horses and piles of things. at the end of the path i break out onto a less than main street but more main than the path and i see people. turn around to look at the path. hmm. probably shouldn't have been there alone. back to the main part of town. walk past a police van where approximately eight officers are returning. in 2004, the police engaged christiana in a major drug raid. operations apparently continue.

back to the hostel for some more writing. i met francisco originally from puerto rico, a teacher in madison, wisconsin, currently living and studying in rome. thirty-two. we talked about european perceptions of americans. he'll be in rome until 10 august and invited me to stay with him. thank you francisco! not sure if i'll make it down there before you leave.

nick would be leaving for a long bike trip to sweden early the next morning. i got his email address before i fell asleep on the top of the three tiers.

posted by paul at Fri 01 Jul 2005 at 00:00:01 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)