After two days of action and adventure around Stavanger, it was time to wind down a bit and I had planned to visit a virtual friend of mine who lived in Oslo. We’d never met in person, but had spent many hours together sailing virtual yachts on our respective computers over the years. Yes, we were sailing simulator boffins. It sounds pretty daggy I know, but I have met some terrific people from all over the world, with offers to stay with them any time I was in their country, all because we shared a love of sailing.
Harald picked me up from Gardermoen airport in Oslo which like Melbourne’s airport, is a good 40-50 minutes from the city. I had a rough idea what he looked like from his various avatars used in virtual sailing forums but I was going to be easier to spot dragging a bike bag. There wasn’t too many of those coming out of the baggage claim.
He had a plan for the afternoon and I was going to stay with him and his family the night before flying home the next day. The good weather was still with us and we ate a nice alfresco lunch at the Ekerberg Restaurant overlooking the city area and harbour. It was very scenic.
In between visits to some major attractions in Oslo including the opera house and a walk through the beautiful Vigeland Park, we chatted and laughed about some of the people and of the things that had a gone on back when we’re doing a lot of virtual sailing. There were some real characters out there and some hard cases too.
Our final attraction for the day was the Holmenkollen ski centre which sat high above the city of Oslo. “Holmen” being the name of the family that originally owned the land in that area and “kollen” meaning hill. From almost anywhere in the city and surrounds, you could see an impressive structure poking out from the top of the hill. It was a ski jump.
First, we took a virtual ride in a ski simulator (we do love our virtual experiences!) where you jump in a pod with a giant screen in front of you and while you scream down the ski jump at 100km/hr then launch into the air, the pod lurches and dips accordingly. It was pretty full on I have to say. We then did a giant slalom run at 130km/hr and that was pretty amazing too. I love watching it during the Winter Olympics and I’m amazed at the control those guys have on such steep slopes. It goes for a good few minutes too. We don’t have runs anywhere near that long in Australia.
We walked through the ski museum there and it was fascinating to see all of the old exploration clothing and equipment. There were animal displays too and Harald explained the animals that could be found in the forests just north and west of the city – moose, deer and further out, bears and wolves. Hunting is a popular pastime in Norway and I saw a number of people wearing what I recognised as hunting pants. The hunting season was opening that weekend and keen hunters were getting ready. The main target was grouse.
We caught a lift up to the top of the ski jump and got to stand where the jumpers take off from. It was a sight that would strike fear in the bravest of hearts. A small amphitheatre waited at the bottom which would provide an amazing view of the jumper and most importantly, the landing. I imagined the whole place covered in snow as it would be in a few months and wished I could be there. From here we could also see the larger ski and biathlon training facility where keen winter athletes were training on wheeled skis along a dedicated path that wound around the complex. The occasional ‘pop, pop’ could be heard which was biathletes practicing their shooting. I just loved that whole winter sport scene and how old, practical traditions were still part of what is now a very modern, technical sport. I didn’t know if you’ve ever watched biathlon events on TV or in person but these athletes have to ski a around an extremely demanding course including up hills and along flat areas and then stop at ranges where they have to shoot at small targets before proceeding on with the race. They are able to slow down their heart rate quickly after the exertion of skiing so that they can shoot accurately and not lose any time in the race.
It was late afternoon and Harald had been getting a few messages from his kids asking when we’d be home. He told me they were excited about having a visitor from Australia but I found that hard to believe. Me? Exciting?
We got to his house which was nestled amongst others of a similar design in a pretty, village-like area backed by a forest. We went inside where I met his wife and his son. Harald had kids almost identical in age to mine. We had much in common. His son was crazy about soccer and his daughter spent most of her time in her room on her iPad. The similarities continued! A short time later, Harald went to pick up his daughter from handball training and finally, everyone’s was home.
His daughter was learning different English accents at school and we had some fun trying the different ones out. I had my first real Norwegian meal that night of fresh salmon steaks, rice and salad. We talked a lot about the things Australians and Norwegians had in common and the things that were different. Harald had made waffle batter and after the meal, we sat down in the lounge while he cooked them and when he was done, brought them in along with various toppings.
There were some very nice jams and cream of course but also a ‘brown’ cheese. It was in a large block and to me it looked like clay! But, like I tell my kids, you gotta try everything once. It had the texture and taste of typical cheese but with a sweet overtone which actually went very well with the waffles and jam. After some more stories and even some guitar playing, we all went off to bed.
The kids were getting ready for school when I came down for breakfast in the morning and so I got to see them before I left. They were sweet kids. Next on the agenda was a walk in the woods with Harald and his hunting dog. His dog was an English Setter, a ‘bird dog’ used for finding and retrieving grouse. Today’s walk was not just going to be for the sake of exercise, there was some serious training to be done between hunter and dog. Hunting season was about to open so they had to get a few things right. Harald not only grabbed his whistle, he also put a fancy looking electronic collar on the dog and brought along some sort of Garmin handset. As he explained to me what this collar could do, I couldn’t help wonder about the poor grouse who was getting no help from Garmin at all. I expressed this sentiment to Harald who laughed and told me that he was a pretty poor shot.
This collar could do some very impressive things. It essentially replaced the whistle which had two primary commands – ‘Sit’ and ‘Come here’. The dog knew the two whistle commands well but Harald had to teach it to do the same things to two different vibrating patterns in the collar, triggered from the handset by the hunter. This way, the hunter didn’t have to make any sound to communicate with the dog which was obviously an advantage. The collar could also tell the hunter when the dog had stopped moving and was in ‘point’ ie. it had found some grouse. It told the hunter exactly how far away the dog was and in which direction. The damn collar could even tell the hunter if the dog was looking up into the trees. I wondered if it alerted the hunter when the dog was taking a crap and where exactly the crap was even after the dog had run off.
As we walked up the hill behind Harald’s house with our technically advanced dog, we came to the wood and I thought “Isn’t this good!” Not sure that Harald would find it as amusing as I did, I kept it to myself, until now that is. The dog had a great time exploring everywhere and Harald tried the ‘whistle/collar’ combinations. Hopefully she would pick it up quickly, she was a smart dog.
Back home and flushed with post-exercise endorphins, I showered and packed up my stuff. There was just one last thing to do before I got on the plane home that afternoon – get my wife some designery Scandinavian gifts. Naturally, Harald and I had no idea what I should buy, nor where such unknown thing could be bought from. So we asked his wife who knew exactly where to go. It was a large shopping centre with a bunch of stores that sold lovely homeware ‘things’. A set of very Nordic-looking wooden salt and pepper grinders and two amazing-smelling candles later, my trip was complete. I took a very deep breath and felt the pull of my family and my home now that all the boxes were ticked. I looked around for my friends and found them in an adjoining store. Harald’s wife had spotted a coffee table she liked, so that was being bought and they were signing up for the store loyalty program. That way they could get $20 off their next $500 purchase there (I’m pulling these figures out of my rear end but those were the kinds of figures I was getting from Harald’s facial expression).
From the Scandinavian designer homeware complex for last minute gift-buying by husbands from the other side of the earth, it was straight to the airport. I bid my friends goodbye and thanked them before stepping into yet another airport and starting my journey home. Now I know you can’t fly direct from Oslo to Melbourne, but stopping in Dubai, Bangkok and then Sydney on the way was just an utter shitfight and put me off international travel for a while.