Category Archives: Norway

Hell Comes to Norway

We weep with Norway. All the world has lost much this day.

2011 continues to be a terrible year.

Just last week, the Global Peace Index came out with their report and based on their analysis, Norway was placed 9th of a list of most peaceful and safe countries.  This is not surprising for a country with few if any conflicts through its history, in possession of an open society and low crime rate as well as being the home of the Nobel Peace Prize.

But in the last 24hours, this peace was shattered by a bomb blast in central Oslo and a mass shooting of teenagers camping on the island of Utoya by single gunman.  The combined death toll at the time of this post is 92 and may still rise.

Such things have never happened before in Norway but that innocence has now been lost forever.

It often feels like this whole world is full of violence and despair but there have always been oasis of peace and stability in the sea of turmoil.  Places like Norway were  like  solid rocks, safe havens or sanctuaries where the hope for peace and humanity still burned bright.  Thus, when something like this tragedy happens in Norway, it feels like the desecration of a sacred spot.

The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jen Stoltenberg, said in an interview, “Utoya was the paradise of my youth, now it has become hell.”  I feel in the same way, hell has come to Norway.

I wish the people of Norway well and share in their period of sorrow at all the lives lost.  Stoltenberg promised to help the youth to recover Utoya and all the sense of freedom of speech and beliefs and the sense of safety it represented.  May I wish that all Norway too will find a similar healing.

O Lord, over the nations now
Where is the dove of peace?
Her wings are broken
O Lord, while precious children starve
The tools of war increase
Their bread is stolen

 O Lord, dark powers are poised to flood
Our streets with hate and fear
We must awaken!
O Lord, let love reclaim the lives
That sin would sweep away
And let Your kingdom come
(lyrics from the song, "O Lord the clouds are gathering" by Graham Kendrick)


The Sky is Falling….


It’s too late. Chicken Little was right.  Like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, we collectively have wasted our time politicking and in self delusion until now, climate change and its impact on Earth and mankind has become a certainty.  The world will definitely change within the next 30 years.

In a study by the consultancy firm Maplecroft, the five main threats of climate change were looked at.  These are flooding, drought, storms, rising sea levels and changes to ecosystems.  The data was then analysed in a number of ways and  its impact on countries was assessed.

Most at Risk to Suffer Climate Change Effects (Maplecroft 2009)

Based on their current vulnerability and ability to cope , the worst countries are Somalia followed by Haiti, Afghanistan, Sierra Leonne, Burundi, Guinea, Rwanda, the Gambia, Chad and Nigeria.  Africa would seem to be the area of highest risk.  Least at risk is Norway followed by Finland, Japan and Canada.

Most Vulnerable to Climate Change Effects (Maplecroft 2010)

This list was a revision of the 2009 list above and placed a greater emphasis on a countries ability or lack of ability to respond to the effects of climate change.  This list has as most vulnerable, Bangladesh followed by India, Madagascar, Nepal, Mozambique, the Philippines, Haiti, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.  Least vulnerable was Norway, Finland , Iceland and Ireland,

Most Vulnerable to Natural Disasters

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique, Haiti, the Philippines and Columbia are most at risk from natural disasters.

Most Vulnerable to Food Crisis

Afghanistan, DR Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola, Liberia, Chad and Zimbabwe.  Least vulnerable are Finland followed by Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

The message is clear. A pattern is forming and  in the interest of self preservation, I think I had better brush up on Norwegian and Finnish.

God dag. Kunne du trykk inn en vennlig flyktning ekorn hvem er skinn fra klimaet endre?”  (Norwegian)

Hei te antaa kotona ystävällinen pakolainen orava joka on häipyä polveutua ilmanala”  (Finnish)

“Hello.  Could you let in a friendly refugee squirrel who is fleeing from climate change?”  (English)

Sucking Up to Norwegian Immigration


Fuzzy and the Steam Room

I have posted about my good friend Fuzzy before (Fuzzy and the Traveler’s Divorce and Fuzzy and the Poet Scientist).  Here is another one in the Fuzzy series.

It was 1983 and we were a couple of young greenhorns; inexperienced and largely unexposed to the wide and wonderful world.  But Fuzzy and I were doing something to change that.  We had set off to travel across Europe as railway hobos.  Armed with a rail pass and a backpack each, we set off for the adventure of a lifetime.

Although we are great friends, we are quite different in temperament and in our preferences.  I like the countryside; Fuzzy prefers cities.  I like folk culture; Fuzzy likes high culture.  I dream of visiting Scandinavia; Fuzzy’s dream is the ruins of Ancient Greece.  I am a slob; he is always the immaculate gentleman.  You get the picture. Despite our differences, we complemented each other in many ways.   Furthermore, it was always fun hanging with Fuzzy cause amusing misadventures seem to just happen to him naturally.

Humoring me, Fuzzy agreed to the long trip to Norway and so we found ourselves arriving at a youth hostel outside Bergen one wet and cold autumn day.  The day long journey to Bergen from Oslo was a beautiful experience and the scenery exceeded my wildest expectations.  However, our journey started the night before as we traveled overnight from Copenhagen to Oslo and that was a nightmarish journey.

The railway cab had no heating and it felt as if the night time temperature plummeted to near freezing.  We took out every piece of warm clothing we had and wore it.  We ended up wearing so many layers that we could only waddle about while looking like Tweedledee and Tweedledum and even then we were shivering.

So when, we arrived at the hostel the next evening, we were happy but tired, hungry and cold.  Our priority was a warm shower and some warm food.  We went into our room and found that we shared it with three other single travelers.  In many of these hostels, there were no lockers or other means of securing our belongings.  While we would like to trust everyone, it was only prudent to take some precautions as we had money and cameras in our backpacks.  So invariably, we made sure that one of us would always stay with our belongings.

It was thus decided that I would first go to the kitchen and cook our evening meal of instant noodles fortified by a couple of sausages while Fuzzy waited in our room and read up on the hostel facilities and plan for our activities in Bergen.  I returned with two steaming plates of welcome goodness which did much to improve our disposition.

During dinner, Fuzzy told me that the hostel was actually a ski resort that doubled as a hostel in the off season.  He had read that amongst its facilities was a sauna room which we could use for free.  This was of great interest to us as neither of us have ever even come close to a sauna before and it seemed like a place of wonder.  We too wanted to be initiated in to the rites of steam.  Plus we reckoned that it would be a balm to our aching and cold bones.

This time, I offered to let Fuzzy to go first while I caught up with reading about Bergen for our adventures the next day.  Fuzzy was all smiles and practically shivering with excitement as he gathered his bathing gear and head off for the sauna and then the showers.

After he left, I actually spent a lot  of time talking about cameras and photography with a German backpacker that was sharing the room with us.  We talked for almost an hour before he left to seek liquid libations in town.  I looked at my watch and wondered where Fuzzy was.  I imagined with envy, Fuzzy enjoying his sauna experience so much that he had forgotten all about me.

At long length, he reappeared.  I scooped up my bathing gear while excitedly asking for his report on the experience.  He looked rather disappointed as he gave me directions to the place.  He told me that I would eventually reach a pine door with the sign “Sauna” on it.  “Going in through the door, you will find a very large room with a wooden bench running right round the room.” he said.

“I sat there for more than half an hour but I have to say, that it was rather disappointing.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, it was warmer than outside but it wasn’t really that warm.” Fuzzy replied.

I was puzzled by Fuzzy’s experience and it took out a lot of wind from the sails of my enthusiasm.  Still, I made my way to the room following Fuzzy’s detailed directions.  I found the marked pine door and entered into that large room.  It was as Fuzzy said.  It was warm but not really spectacularly warm.  One was beginning to wonder why people made such a fuss about a sauna. As I sat there, barely breaking into a sweat, I was beginning to think that the whole sauna experience thing was extremely over-rated.

I must have been there for about ten minutes when I walked around the room hoping to find some thermostat control and raise the temperature further but I could find no switch other than those for the lights.  But then I noticed that the source of heat for the room was some steam escaping from a smaller pine door in one corner of the room.  I went to the door and opened it.

That was when I discovered that Fuzzy had spent half an hour sitting in the changing room just outside the real and much smaller sauna room which lay behind the second pine door!  The legendary Fuzzy had done it again.

Faces and Places

Norwegian Guide, Bergen

I just got back from a week in Indonesia. Although I enjoyed the experience and meeting up with both new and old colleagues on this trip, I missed my family badly and couldn’t wait to be back home. This wasn’t always the case, of course. In my younger days, before I got married, I was quite excited about traveling.

In fact, when I turned 21, I went backpacking through Europe for a month and never felt anything but the thrill of the open road. That trip was and will forever be a defining moment in my life. In a way, it was an important rite of passage to adulthood and a declaration that I could go out into the wide world and take care of myself. In those few, precious, glorious autumn days of my youth, I left the coast of England and made my landfall in Belgium; crossed through the Ardennes into Luxembourg; went through Germany on the way to Denmark; took a long train and ferry ride to Norway; retraced my path and went to Austria; thought of heading to Greece but bailed out into the then Republic of Yugoslavia; finally returning to Belgium.

The earth has circled the sun many times since then but as I reflect on that trip, I realise as much as I had enjoyed the scenery, the architecture, history and culture, the fondest of memories are the people I met along the way.

  1. Belgium. There was an English father with his teenage son who were spending two weeks cycling through Europe. We met quite a few times as we chose a similar travel route. It culminated with a quiet but beautiful evening on the verandah of a small Youth Hostel in the Ardennes sharing stories and several rounds of beer with other fellow travelers. It was great. There was also that Youth Hostel in Namur with its hippie American staff and their wonderfully bohemian barbeque party.
  2. Luxembourg. I met up with the son of a famous cartoonist. Together we had some wild adventures in this ancient kingdom which would have made the authorities frown with disapproval but which make the memories all the more precious. You can read more about it here.
  3. Germany. It was a long train ride so my traveling companion and I decided to practice a few choice phrases in Hebrew on a couple of unsuspecting Isreali youths. In fact, we only knew about three phrases but it was enough to have one of them enquire if there was a large Chinese Jewish community. We enjoyed playing with their minds!
  4. Norway. I will always remember that very sweet and friendly guide at the cultural village in Bergen. It was pouring with rain and the two of us were the only ones mad enough to show up but she still graciously took us around. A fun interaction and a very fond memory.
  5. Germany. The visit to Herrenchiemsee was interesting but spending a rainy afternoon doing laundry with two Southern Belles from America was special. One was a nurse and the other a student of politics. Somehow, we got talking about the Kennedy era and the American Camelot.
  6. Austria. Arriving late in Salzburg, I teamed up with an American student to find a beer garden for food and drinks. We had a wonderful time under the stars talking about politics and life in general. We also had a great meal and liberal amounts of beer which resulted in a mad adventure trying to find our way through the maze of streets to our Hostel. It did not help that neither of us could walk straight but bouncing off the walls of the narrow cobvled streets was fun in its own way.
  7. Yugoslavia. This was a nation of colourful characters. Starting with the bus conductor that insisted in speaking to me even though I did not understand a word he was saying. At Plitvice Lakes, I enjoyed the company and the stories of my B&B host who was an elderly Dutch lady who had lived in Indonesia and had now found her heaven in Yugoslavia ( I often what happened to her during the war). Then I actually ran into a group of dissidents that printed an underground newspaper. They actually kept me company for a couple of hours while I waited for a train. On the train, I then met an attractive and vivacious Aussie girl (Kate) and the Yugoslavian soldier who commandeered my phrase book so that he could hit on the former.
  8. Austria. Back in Vienna, I spent my time in the company of two Aussie girls, Kate and Gai. We made a good team. One girl could be counted on to find great shopping, the other was an expert at finding coffee and cakes and I was the one who could actually read a map and navigate. We all had a very interesting but scary encounter with an elderly man with wild eyes who kept prodding us with his walking stick while asking, “Hitler gud, ya?” We did the culture vulture thing for a few days and promised to keep in touch, buddies for life and look each other up…….but never did.
  9. Belgium. My second time back in Belgium and I was caught by a nationwide transport strike. I celebrated my 21st birthday with a Canadian student, a Welsh Parole officer and an Irish Artist. I wandered the streets of Brussels with a Moroccan student even though we communicated only by sign language. Finally, I made a run for the ports and back to U.K. by hitching a ride with an American pastor (the driver), an American couple and a British student.

Finally though, I should not forget my friend, partner in crime and occasional travel companion (although we started the trip together, we split up a couple of times before finally separating as he went on into Greece and I stopped at Yugoslavia). Now he, is a great character indeed but I think I will elaborate in my next post.

Choosing Seven Natural Wonders

Almost two years ago, I posted on the effort to declare the New Seven (Man-Made) Wonders of the World through an unprecedented global internet voting process which led to the results announced here in 2007. At that time, four of my choices made it into the final seven; they were Machu Picchu (Peru), Taj Mahal (India), Petra (Jordan) and Great Wall (China).

I recently discovered that there is now an attempt to identify the New Seven Wonders of Nature through the same global internet voting process. In this preliminary stage, you are allowed to nominate up to seven candidate sites or vote for seven candidate sites already nominated or any combination in between. The top 77 sites from this voting process will then be shortlisted and then the final round of voting will allow voters to select the top seven from that list. Those with the most votes at the end of that round will be declared the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

Currently as of 5th July 2008, the top 10 on the list are;

  1. Cox’s Bazar Beach (Bangladesh)
  2. Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
  3. Ganges River (Bangladesh/India)
  4. Tubbataha Reef (Philippines)
  5. Chocolate Hills (Philippines)
  6. Mount Everest (Nepal)
  7. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Philippines)
  8. Mayon Volcano (Philippines)
  9. Amazon River/Forest (South America)
  10. Mount Fuji (Japan)

It is early days yet but the top runners are surprisingly almost all from Asia with the Philippines having a high number or percentage of nominees. If you disagree, do please join in and vote.

Below are my seven choices;

1. Banff National Park (Canada)

My personal vision of paradise is closely represented by Banff with its forests rich in wildlife, stunning turquoise lakes, glaciers and mountains. I have visited Banff and it was beyond my expectation. I could live there quite happily. It’s a pity about the seasonal hordes of tourists but there is still sufficient wilderness to get lost in.

2. Auyantepui Mountain (Venezuela)

The Devil’s Mountain, in the native tongue of the Pemon peoples, it rises like other tepuis, almost vertically from the jungle floor and has a flat plateau like top. Tepuis are often referred to as islands in the clouds. Auyantepui rises to a height of almost 3,000 m and the world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls, cascades off its plateau. It is rich in rare and unusual plant life. A wet and wold place.

3. Hardangerfjiord (Norway)

I have always been fascinated by the scenery of fjords and the geological power of the glaciers that it often represents. I visited here more than 25 years ago but was blown away by the grandeur even then. I would love to revisit this place of haunting and reflective beauty.

4. Milford Sound (New Zealand)

This is the Antipodean reply to the Norwegian fjords and beautiful and lush with its own wealth of flora and fauna. I have been on the cruise and have seen the unusual darkwater corals but would one day like to hike the spectacularly wet Milford Track.

5. Plitvice Lakes (Croatia)

Another place that I have visited that has captured my imagination ever since. This rates very high on my personal list because of its fairly unique nature and because I just love the landscape of waterfalls and crystal clear lakes linked by cascades and streams. It was just beautiful water everywhere and i just love water. The limestone outcrops and caves are added attractions.

6. Mulu Caves (Malaysia)

I know that this is in my own backyard but I have not visited it (relatively costly for me). However, I could not leave out from this list the world’s largest cave system and largest single cave chamber. Other special caves are also found in this system with individual characteristics. The large bat population is an attraction too as is the rich forest life surrounding the caves.

7. Pamukkale Springs (Turkey)

I have never been here but the thought of its rather special and delicate attractions gives me goosebumps. I would love to soak in its hot-springs.

Don’t miss out on casting a vote for your picks for the new Seven Wonders of Nature.

Before and After Magic

Regular readers will know that after almost six months of anticipation (and actually some several years of procastination), I finally got myself a scanner just recently. In keeping with the brotherhood of men, my behavior since been dominated by the “Ooo. Cool Gadget. Must Play” gene which is known to be asssociated with the Y-chromosome. I have scanned almost everything I can think of to give it a try. Photos, I mean.

Anyway, I am thrilled with the results of the scanner and the packaged Paintshop PhotoAlbum 5 software. When I felt that I still wasn’t getting the best result, I tweaked the images further with Google’s Picasa. I am so, so happy about the results.

I tried it out on a bunch of prints that I had, that had seen better days. They had been decolorised by heat and humidity and looked nothing like what I remembered the prints to look like. Yet by scanning and software magic, I have been able to recover much of their glory.

The software had problems with things like shafts of light against a dark background. Those just come out as a flare of light. However, the overall result has me in good spirits and high hopes that I can at least recover a semblence of my old, damaged images.

The set of before and after images in this post were done with a set of decolorised prints from a trip to Norway. Bear in mind that these prints are 22 years old. I will blog on something more substantial when my scanner breaks down. (Can you imagine that I am this cheerful despite the fact that Ducks owned by a Mickey Mouse Corporation now have their hands on the Stanley Cup?!!). Have a good week.

(Oh, almost forgot. All photos by LGS. From top left and going clockwise: 1. Pretty guide from the Folklore Museum in Bergen; 2. Ferry on the fiord; 3. Naerofiorden and 4. Highest point on Oslo-Bergen Railway.)