Thursday, June 30, 2011

NO - Åndalsnes

June 30                 Thursday                             Norway                                Åndalsnes          

I woke up with the Donkey Kong Country song stuck in my head.  It’s the song that kind of sounds almost like a musical box at first, with the jungle drums kicking in a few measures later.  I don’t know why it was in my head, but I was singing it as I woke up.

It was a dreary day & at long last it stuck, with the cycling weather pattern I’d noted yesterday now transforming into a consistently gray day.  Of all days, it was when I supposed to take a spectacularly scenic journey… bah.  But as I’d noted before: it’s best to try and reframe such weather as just another photographic tool.  The clouds are a diffuser; and their low altitude would help to frame things into a gloomy state… and considering the troll theme of much of the geology I’d pass through: perhaps this would even be appropriate.

I left my baggage at the desk to explore the town a bit before catching my train that afternoon.  I just revisited many of the same sites I’d already taken, but tried to vary my route a bit to take in different streets.  By the time I caught my train I felt that I’d taken pretty much every single street in the entire city center, including along both sides of the bryggen.

My train took me first to Dombås before changing into the Rauma Railway (Raumabanen) as it travels to Åndalsnes.  The first leg of the train ride was rather uneventful, with the highlight being my eating of breakfast.  The panini (if that’s what they want to call it) was quite lacking, though the cookie was tasty.  Amusing part was that the train’s café was actually rather reasonably priced… at the least on-par with any stationary convenience mart.

The Rauma Railway was definitely a delight, but again I’d love to see it in better weather… but I tried my best to use the gloom to my advantage.  The railway is famous for its civil engineering marvels as it tackles some pretty major grades, at one point bridging back and forth over streams to try and make the grade before eventually going into a tunnel that spirals & double-backs over itself – opening directly onto a pretty phenomenal bridge.  It was definitely worth the trip.

Upon arrival in Åndalsnes I decided to give myself a quick tour of the town.  Despite the backpacks & knowledge that I had a decent walk to my hostel, I also knew that this was my only chance to really see the town; and I knew it’d be a small enough town that it would only take a couple minutes.  And sure enough: I was soon on my journey out to the hostel.  I’d checked out the town on Google Maps the night before, which was all it took for me to get to my hostel flawlessly.  Thank you, Lonely Planet, for not giving me a map… no map is better than a bad map; it forces me to pay more attention & learn the layout of towns rather than think I can use the map as a crutch.

Along the way I’d kept pace with a guy who was clearly having some trouble with his rolling suitcase, but he kept up his speed just enough – and I’d slowed just enough with my frequent photos – that I’d never caught up with him.  At the hostel, however, while chatting with my new roommates he came in several minutes later and immediately recognized me as the guy who had been behind him.  His name was Dominique, hailing from the south of France, & he’d come to be a recurring presence in my trip.

Similarly, another recurring presence would be a tour group whose guide I got to chatting with – an older English guy who’d been living in Norway for years & ran tours catering to Ukrainians.  So sure enough: the tour group was formed of Russian-speaking Ukrainians from a town between Kyiv and Bila Tserkva… there’s a good chance I’d gone right by their hometown during my trip in 2008.  I came to love the Russian language during that trip & really like the Ukrainian people, so I was excited to have such a group around.  But even better: the tour guide helped me plan my route to Bergen… he had time tables of buses & knew their routes, which was fortunate considering that my initial plan followed paths which didn’t have any bus routes.  Surprising considering how direct they seemed & how large the towns were… who’d have thought Lom would be so underserved by buses?  His group was headed in much the same direction as me, so we’d be tagging along together the next day.

I’d arrived into the hostel just seconds before two full tour buses pulled in, turning the quiet farmstead into a wildhouse of folk… one bus contained the Ukrainians & the other bus had a Chinese tour group.  I was quite relieved to have arrived just in time to check-in before that cacophony struck the reception desk.

In addition to Dominique, my roommates consisted of two German guys – one about my age (bunked below me) and another seeming in his late-30’s or early-40’s; I couldn’t tell if he was a friend, coworker, or even father to the guy my age.  There were two other French guys who I chatted with briefly & I’m drawing a blank on who occupied the other bed; I don’t think I got to talking with him at all.

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