“There is a fat man in the bathroom with the blues” – Lowell George, Little Feat
“Look at the warheads! Those are definitely warheads!” – Teri landing in Rostock, East Germany (in a crowd of very unhappy East Germans)
Day Fifty – August 7th
After another rainy, noisy night (don’t park where the tree branches brush the top of the camper and the pigeons sound like mice) we are up to sunshine. The kids and Teri hike while I post to the blog. We have lunch and start driving around 2p.
We cross the roof of Norway again and it remains cold, stark and carved. There is an occasional house, usually made of stone, sitting about randomly as if someone built it then sort of forgot about it. No signs of life up here. The lakes serve to flatten out the rugged, rocky expanse. However, in the sunshine they reflect back the mountains surrounding them and seem to add to the drama of it all. It really does feel like we are driving on top of the world.
When we finally start to descend we pick up A7 and ride the edge of a fjord all the way down into Oslo. We go through many 3k plus tunnels, the final one actually in Oslo with the exit to the campsite underground! En route the towns get bigger, the traffic heavier and the surrounds grow more crowded. I already miss the solitude of the Fjords: I guess the grass is always greener. The drive is about 4 hours, probably pushed one hour too far, but in the end it is good to be back in civilization.
The campsite is beautiful and fairly clean for a city sight. We are on top of a hill over looking the lights of downtown. They twinkle at night making the hills look alive with “fairies fires”. Apparently our timing is really good as a large Norwegian football tournament just ended and everyone left camp this morning. We have our pick of the place and settle into one of the few level spots, under a tree and close to the facilities.
There is an international feel here with license plates from all over Europe. It’s much different than the quiet solitude we have had for the last few days. The languages around camp are from all parts: German, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Czech, Italian, Austrian, and French. Not an American to be heard. From what I can tell the campers here seem to fall into three categories: young couples in tents, older folks in RVs and families in HOWs. All of them are good-natured but a bit guarded with their interactions. Just a pleasant smile and nod of the head for the most part.
Since we are low on food we have an assortment of random leftovers for dinner and go to bed early. Before bed Adele and I start the “Ollowbit” which is so much more fun than I remember. Pick up a copy if you have it lying around and start to read it out loud with an eight year old in earshot, it will not disappoint.
Day Fifty-One August 8th
Up around 8a, very early for us these days, to sunny skies and warm temps. All the makings of a great day! This is the first major city with easy public transport from our campsite. The buses to “sentalstation” run every half hour or so and we have a stop right at the entrance to the campsite. Plus, it turns out to be Sunday and kids ride free all day.
From the get-go Oslo is easy to manage and filled with friendly people. The main station is right in the thick of it all and the walk to our first ferry is quite pleasant. We stroll down one of the main pedestrian walk ways to the pier and hop on a boat to Bygdoy a small island about ten minutes across the bay.
First stop is the Viking Museum. Here they have three boats uncovered and restored by the Norwegians back in the olden days (translated, sometime before the turn of the century I think). These are some of the best-preserved Viking vessels in the world with intensely detailed carvings. The massive structures are housed in a space that allows them to stand alone so you can get a sense of just how big and powerful this Viking navy must have been. Just call me Thor! I wish I had a hat with horns!
We then wander through the island down to our second stop by the harbor. The walk reminds me of either the Cape or Newport with big, beautiful houses set on large plots of land always in striking distance of the sea. Must be where the money lives here in Oslo.
The next stop is the Kon-Tiki museum. I still remember visiting here when I was a kid and reading the book while traveling that summer. It leaves a similar impression today. In fact, if you are in the “what am I going to do with the rest of my life” stage I recommend you skip this one as it may be damaging over the long haul. And maybe the next stop as well.
Radical exploration of anything, filled with life threatening conditions and for reasons known and understood only by you and a relative few, has a certain ring to it if you’re in a certain frame of mind. After all, why not tackle something that matters and means something? I leave the definition of “matters” and “means something” to the adventurous…
These whackos, a loose collection of six or seven guys each from a different country, sailed from Peru to the South Pacific Islands in a reed boat to see if it could be done. Why? Just to see if it was possible that at some point in history someone else did it before them! And they did it in 1947, just after the end of WW2 to, which created one of the first mass media events of our time. I am so excited I might explode! This is right up my alley.
Following on the original theme of the Kon-Tiki is an exhibit on the Plas-Tiki, a ship made of plastic bottles sailing from San Francisco to The Cook Islands (and then maybe Australia) to raise awareness for the Great Sea of Plastic forming in the Pacific. Solving the issues surrounding this great sea of plastic is one of the central reasons I am launching my new company, VinniVooms.
My concept is to take plastic from the sea, re-purpose it into board shorts for fathers and sons, and return the recycled plastic to the sea in a more eco-friendly form. It cannot be coincidence that all of these random pieces of my life are converging in a small museum in Oslo, Norway. Only time will tell why.
The guys in the museum next door sailed a boat named the Fram to the North Pole in a race to be the first to complete the voyage. Upon learning someone beat them just days prior, they turned the Fram around and sailed to the South Pole to be first one down there. Captains Friditjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen I salute you! This is the very essence of determination and perseverance. Years trapped in polar ice, unimaginable hardship, not knowing if you will ever get out alive. It makes you want to run out the front door and keep on going until you get somewhere!
By the way this museum is really something. They built the place around the boat and give you full access to the ship. Standing on the deck knowing the hardships they experienced is magical in its own right.
We lunch on seafood dockside before taking the ferry back to town. The next stop is the Vigeland Park and the experience catches us off guard as it comes completely out of the blue. Apparently there is a sculptor here in Norway named Vigeland that works in stone and bronze and he decided to make 211 figures of people in all kinds of different interactions with each other and put them in this park. It is truly amazing and beautiful.
They line walk ways, are standing atop columns, rise up in a towering column stretching into the sky. They are etched into gate doors, standing solo in fields and sitting on benches. Everywhere you look you see one. And I swear to you each one catches you and takes you breath away.
For me, the most interesting are the fathers and their children. He has captured them in all kinds of situations: playing, caring, teaching. It leaves you with a desire to go and pick your kids up and just toss them high over head only to catch them last minute as they fallback down, laughing and giggling, saying, “again, again, again.”
Adele and I lie on the grass and read while Vince and Teri relax at the playground. We lounge the better part of the afternoon and eventually wander over to a pizza dinner at the bus station. By the time we arrive back at the site it is past 9p. The campsite is getting busy again with probably twice the people as last night. The Austrians have moved in front of and next to us.
By 10p, with journals done and Bilbo Baggins gearing up for and adventure with Gandalf and the Dwarfs, we are all off to sleep after a wonderful day. Turns out Oslo is about the size of Portland with roughly 500K people and the two cities feel very much akin to each other. Now if Portland would only move to the coast…
Day Fifty-Two August 9th
This is a slow moving morning. Unfortunately it is not as bright and sunny as yesterday but at least is it not raining. This is our day to relax and have some fun so we all decide to go swimming at the huge public swimming plaza we found in the park yesterday. Our fingers are crossed that the experience is a step up from Belgium.
While waiting for the bus, one of the other kids in line pushes Vince off of the bench: maybe by accident, maybe not. Your instinct as a parent is to hope that the other parents will handle the situation and remind their child not to push others. In this case a big, burly father threatens his son and demands he apologize, in English no less, and half jokingly whacks him upside the head while the mother stands behind both of them shouting something in what may be either Italian or Spanish. It’s a nightmare: no wonder the kid is pushing others around. It seems to be an accepted form of communication in his neck of the woods.
By the time we bus and subway to the pool the skies have cleared a bit and it is reasonably warm (for Norway). The pool rules say you must shower before swimming so Vince and I head into the men’s locker room to shower off. As I stand putting our stuff into a locker Vince comes running out of the showers yelling at the top of his lungs, “Dad! Dad! There is a man in there that ate too much food! I am not kidding! I think he will explode!” At times like these it is good to speak in a foreign tongue.
The place is great. There are two 50m pools, one for laps and the other for kids, a deep pool with platforms and diving boards and a gigantic slide that makes multiple loops and turns. We spend the better part of the day here: Adele on the slide and Vince in the 50m kids pool.
By later afternoon we are in need of a snack so we move on and find a place by the subway station for coffee and brownies. Teri and Adele do some shopping while Vince and I watch the people go by.
There is a wide assortment of folks in this part of town and all of them have an urban feel about them. They are confident, open and friendly. Since the buildings are low, maybe three of four stories high max in most places, and the streets are broad and wide compared to other towns, it feels open here. The people seem to reflect the openness back to others. Vince and I decide we fit right in.
We head back to the main train station for an Indian dinner and free Wi-Fi. Then Teri starts on her quest to get in touch with her doctor back home while the kids and I Skype the States.
One of the things about letting go of health insurance is that you are never really sure how things are going to work out when necessary. In the past we have always had coverage in the States and we just went to our doctors under our insurance plans and everything worked, no questions asked. Now Teri needs an asthma medicine refill and we all need malaria pills before we hit Africa and apparently none of it is covered by our travel insurance plan. So, we are off the insurance grid for the first time. Apparently Norway’s health system is as good a place as any to fulfill prescriptions and the cost here is better than Sweden. However, getting a prescription written by a local doctor is a whole other ball of wax.
We need to go to an ER type clinic to meet a doctor Teri found online who will write up the prescriptions for us to take around the block to the 24-hour pharmacy where they will fill it. Kind of like Dr. Cush in Venice Beach for a “medical” marijuana prescription, at least that’s what I am told by those in the know. And all of this need to happen by 8p before the ER shuts down for the night. It’s 7:40p. Sounds easy right?
It is! We can’t believer how smoothly it all works. By 8:30p we are back in our campsite with a year’s supply of Singular and malaria pills for all and we accomplished it at a cost of about half of what it would be back home! Something is wrong with our healthcare system.
Tonight the campsite feels crowded. There are many new neighbors and lots of people out and about. There are lines to wash dishes and the showers are jammed. For us, this means it is time to move on.
Day Fifty-Three August 10th
Adele: “Are we going to Ondome today?”
Adele: “The ABBA place.”
We decide not to go to “Ondome”, loosely translated as Stockholm, because the ABBA place (museum) is not open yet. We really wanted to see the ABBA museum. Just think of it, an entire museum dedicated to ABBA. Can it get anymore outrageous? Take a chance on me, dancing queen!
To protest the ABBA museum’s delayed opening (and to make up for some time lost wandering around the fjords) we decide to start heading back down towards the equator. This means we are taking the other coastal route down past Goteborg to Trelleborg to catch the boat back to Germany.
The Swedish coast proves to be beautiful. The land pushes right up to the ocean and then just sort of stops. There is very little transition from what we can tell. Perhaps the country is so small there really isn’t time for all that. They need to get right to farming and logging. Cows wander around beachfront pastures. Forests go right up to waters edge. The landscape is more reminiscent of “lake” that “ocean”. I expected sand dunes and wind swept flat lands. Not the case at all from our vantage point.
By lunch we are in an area known for ancient rock carvings so we decide to hit the visitors center and catch the stones. It is very cool. Apparently the Vikings were compelled to draw stories and record their history on these rock walls. The guide claims there are over forty thousand of these carvings along the coast spanning hundreds of years of Viking rule.
On the way home from the Grand Canyon we stopped by Valley of the Fire outside of Vegas (in August mind you) to see a different set of carvings that are eerily similar to these. There are basic figures, talk of sun and moons, and a kind of god like symbol, animals and ships. It is fascinating to see, compare and contract the two places. Luckily, it sparks a conversation on timing and a call for Googling from Adele.
We continue our long driving day and end up mid-coast in a small town on the water. The campsite has a big playground and a nice sandy beach. The kids want a break from travel and sightseeing so if the rain stops we may stay and rest for a day or two.
Day Fifty -Four August 11th
We wake up to ANOTHER rainy day and we are out of here. The online logistics are tough but we mange to work through the details and book a 3p ferry from Trelleborg to Rostock. It’s a six-hour sail across the Baltic. Party on.
Vince: “Hey dad, vampires are at Dodger games right? To watch the ball?”
Dad: “Yes Vince the umpires watch the ball and make sure everyone follows the rules.”
An hour or so later I catch bits and pieces of conversation from the back of the HOW about vampires and blood and baseball with Adele trying to be scary and Vince valiantly defending his position by explaining to Adele how the vampires make sure people follow rules. Priceless.
The sketchy online access here in Sweden is difficult, actually the sketchy online access is difficult in general. Teri is having timing issues with the house rentals and I am having trouble trying to orchestrate getting the board short fabric in hand. Running the day to day on these emerging businesses is proving to be more of a challenge that we initially thought and it adds a wrinkle of stress to the day-to-day. Someone needs to release a universal data SIM card or allow some kind of universal wireless access across Europe. The country-by-country access thing does not work.
We pretty much blew though Sweden, sad but true. I am sure it’s a nice country but it came at the wrong time for us. Had we gone into Sweden first perhaps we would have shown more interest, but honestly, post fjords, the rest of Scandinavia pales in comparison. You need a radical change to re-set and manage expectations.
Trelleborg is a working port. Not a lot of cruise ships here. They seem to cater to a serious, working class, travel only out of necessity, crowd. There may be a few other tourists but none that I recognize. The guidebook says that 97% of the people going to Rostock and the Baltic coast are German, leaving only 3% from outside the country. I don’t know where the 3% are from but I do know they are not on our boat. It is a long, lonely crossing.
Fortunately we have a tiny cabin with two small beds, a desk, our own bathroom and a porthole. Very exciting stuff if you don’t dig too deep. If you look underneath the surface you notice the wear and tear. The desk is old and scratched, the sheets well worn. The bathroom was hosed down but is still dirty; an old bar of soap sits on the shelf in the shower. The rickety TV has a few channel of no interest. The air is stale.
It is then that I realize where we are going.
We are going into East Germany and both the people and surroundings reflect the hard times of the recent past. After all it has only been 20 years or so. The boat is filled with gritty, tough people. All of the good-looking blond folks stayed back in Sweden. These are big, burly people eating “goulash” (seriously, this was how they described the soup type stuff at the dinner buffet) and drinking beer. They sit and stare blankly off in the distance. You can tell they are unfocused and just passing time. It takes some getting used to if you or your kids are they ones their eyes latch on to. We must look like something from another planet.
By the time we get into port, in the shadow of a giant nuclear reactor spitting smoke and steam into the air, memories of hiding under our desks at Norwood Elementary to prep for a potential nuclear attack from the Eastern Block are flooding in from all sides. I feel nervous and agitated.
“Look at the warheads! Those are warheads!” yells Teri across a crowded room full of disgruntled East Germans. I try not to notice. “Look, look, over there,” now pointing out the window and starting to jump up and down, “Those are warheads! Quick take a picture as proof!” Proof? Proof of what? What are we spies? I cannot believe this is happening. I try to defuse the situation, “Oh no, those are just fishing buoys that’s all.” I give her the “for the sake of the children please stop talking or the East Germans may kill us all” look. “What’s a warhead?” asks Adele. Things are going from bad to worse. The East Germans do not look amused. Just how far is the Russian front anyway?
The port is another working shipyard filled with trucks and containers. We dock to bright lights and an endless line of trucks and cars waiting to take our places for the return trip. Those waiting look as miserable as the ones arriving. The place looks like it is right out of a GDR handbook: cement block circa 1950. There is graffiti on the walls; big ads on the sides of buildings for beer and cigarettes, factories light up like Christmas trees and very few people. The place gives you the creeps.
An hour after we land we are in a campsite listening to the sound of waves from the Baltic Sea. The guy who let us in afterhours spoke no English. He just smiled and nodded, took my passport, led us to a site, helped with the electric hook up and vanished. In the darkness, sleep is elusive and I have no idea what to expect in the morning.
Day Fifty-Five-August 12th
Welcome to the Baltic Seaside resort of Rostock! One of the nicest beaches in Germany! Which Teri rightly points out is not such a great claim to fame in a country famous for engineering. Beaches are not top of mind when thinking about the Germans.
The bathhouse has a Greco Roman theme going on. There is a big statue of Venus in the middle and all of the side doors to the various rooms have pictures of ancient gods. It is nuts. And there are people everywhere: washing, brushing their teeth, bathing, doing dishes, talking, eating, smoking, playing, running around, riding bikes. It is just crazy!
That said the place is very clean and orderly. All the license plates are German and we appear to be the only ones from out of state in a campsite the size of a small town back home. This is officially off the grid. Well almost, the good news is that we are back in tmobile country so we at least we have wireless access.
From the coast we drive small back roads to the town of Luden. It feels like a homecoming of sorts to be back on these small roads but here the towns feel much different than before. They do not seem to have the same spark. The bricks look old and worn and the houses are a bit rundown. The sidewalks need work and the cars are older. Perhaps East has not met West out this way.
Luden’s bathhouse however is rocking. Apparently this town is known for it’s salt and the thermal pools here take full advantage of the healing properties of the local minerals. They have multiple pools, a great slide, several hot tubs including one for floating on your back (the salt content is really high so you float easily). Hours pass by. Adele and I get caught in the wave pool, Vince slides headfirst down the slides, Teri and I both soak, and all is well with the world. The only reason we are still not floating in the salt baths is that we ran out of Euros.
The rain is coming down in sheets so we opt for a Greek dinner at a restaurant before heading to a really nice campsite in the woods just out of town. Teri ends the day with emails at the bar and the rest of us continue the adventures of Gandalf and Bilbo. It has to stop raining sometime...
Day Fifty-Six- August 13th
Adele: “Are we moving today?”
Teri: “Yes we are going down the Fairy Tale road! How exciting! ”
Adele: “I don’t want to move, we always move.”
We need to stop moving.
We do stop in town long enough to do laundry. But that is just a brief respite before we are back in the saddle.
Another day, another 400k. We are storming our way to Switzerland and letting little else stand in our way. Once Berlin and Prague went out the window due to a poor maneuverability score with a 7m HOW and campsites away from city centers as well as off the public transit lines, the rest was history. “Get me to the alps,” says Teri, “I don’t care how we get there.”
This is how we found ourselves driving the Fairy Tale Road through central Germany. Do not let the marketing fool you, stay on the Autobahns and drive south very fast. All of these little Grimm brother towns are a total waste of time. After a three-hour tour on small back roads we end up in Hameln famous for the Pied Piper and the rats. There is nothing to see here. There’s no Pied Piper. We camped on the river and still did not see a rat. Plus it’s been raining for days on end and after a while all of Germany starts to look the same: wet, green and old.
This campsite could be a low point for public washrooms to date, as the bathrooms are part of/underneath a bar. The ceilings are really low so that even I need to duck my head plus they are heavily used by patrons from upstairs. This would probably be OK if we were patrons as well but we are not so it isn’t. It’s pouring rain anyway so no one wants to venture outside the HOW.
Reflecting on the recent pace we have been keeping since Oslo leads me to believe we are headed back down. It sounds crazy but the fjords were about as far away from the equator that we will be and it is like our bodies know they must go back towards center to regain equilibrium. It feels like we are being pulled towards Rome, Istanbul and Cairo. It will be interesting if we feel the same after some time in Cape Town.
Onward, always onward…