Where's Sam the Man

48 countries, 12 months, one man, half a brain

Name: Samuel Hathaway
Location: Roaming..., Germany

Monday, July 23, 2007

Norway pictures

Norwegians have learned to be careful for the wild centaurs that roam the forests
Bike route


Ahh, Norway. Let's start with the basics. First, Norwegian men are the most manly Scandinavians. Their jaws are squarer, they wear their hair in ponytails...in short, you would want them on your side in a bar fight. Danish men are just too small, and Swedish men are all baby-faced. You point out that I have not seen the Finns, yet, and you would be correct. However, whenever I talk about Finland with other Scandinavians they always have a pitying smile on their face. Finns just don't count. According to the people I've talked with, the Finns are blond like Scandinavians, but drink like Russians, talk like Martians, and drink a coffee so terribly weak that they are considered completely apart from everything Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian.

Second, Oslo is remarkably unremarkable. In fact, it is remarkable only for its unremarkableness. You walk the streets and can't help but mark the unremarkable nature of the town, and remark what you marked about the unremarkable landmarks to your friends, and how remarkable it is. Admitidly, it has all of the criteria of a European city: cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, expansive parks, old churches, etc. But it has none of the cultural vibrancy or richness that I found in Copenhagen or Vienna. Actually, much of the city is quite modern, making the old town quite small. What does remain is not ugly or a disgrace -- it is simply bland. It is a city without a face. The one exception to this is an astounding sculpture park out on the edge of town, almost hidden away, as if Norway was ashamed at its rebellion to Oslo's dullness. It is built to honor the work of a Mr. Vigelund. Actually, it was while he was still alive (you may infer that he is now dead) that he was given a house and an empty park nearby in anticipation of a museum and sculpture park honoring his accomplishments -- I call that pretty trusting. Especially when you consider Oslo's cultural richness (or lack thereof). Nonetheless, he came through, and created an outstanding, thought-provoking series of 215 sculptures for this park. Each sculpture is a naked, Art-Deco styled human posed in an ever-ranging variety of puzzling, fascinating poses. They range in size from tiny babies to a massive tower of intertwined bodies. They are spread out over acres of land, supporting fountains, decorating bridges, scaring young children. You could walk for hours through the park, contemplating each sculpture.

Third, Norway is one of the most beautiful, pristine countries in the world. I started my first day of biking in Norway, and I don't think I will have another day like it. As soon as you leave Oslo, you are thrust into glorious, untouched wilderness. Broad, rolling hills of pine rear up alongside displays of birch, fields of wildflowers, moss-covered troll caves, pristine streams... The trees grew so thickly there was hardly room for the little country road I was on, much less room for breathing. I was alone for most of the 120 km; the sweeping hill-top views didn't reveal a house for miles. The few cabins that I did pass were of the most charming Scandinavian style, painted rich reds and golds, with carefully tended gardens. It was a painful ride, but there was no way to get tired of the scenery. Completely breathtaking. Both the land and the bike ride.

In sum, make your alliances with Norwegian men, and come to Norway for is natural, not cultural, riches.

Island of Ven pictures

Ven harbor
Just as the storm was clearing...

Boat houses
Rennaissance garden of Mr. Brahe

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm sitting in the Oslo University library, trying to figure out this dang USB port. It appears that I won't be able to load up pictures of what I've been seeing, so tough it out and read my blog anyway.

The last few days have been spent in southern Sweden, in the region known as Skåne. Specifically, I was in the town of Helsingborg -- right across the water from Helsingør, Denmark. The area actually was under Danish control for years, so the region has a lingering flavor of Denmark (yeah, like I would recognize something like that). Well, either the flavor is of Denmark or of Danish alcohol. Apparently, alcohol is so expensive in Skåne that Swedes try to do their shopping across the border. Ironically, most Danes go across the border to Germany for the same reason. I bet you didn't know that.

The highlight of my stay there was a little jaunt on the island of Ven. Erik Åkerman (Swedish 16 year old third cousin on my mother's side) and I shipped off from Råå (Ha! Try and pronounce that! It can't be done!) huddled on the deck of a small fishing boat, in the midst of desparaging wind and drizzle. The dirty smudge on the horizen did not inspire me, either. Once we docked in the harbour, however, the steel grey sky melted away, and I realized that the land was remarkably beautiful. It was beyond beautiful, actually -- it was exhilerating! Spending time on the island that day was like drinking pure spring water; everything was raw and rejuvinating,
simple and sublime. No one element made it that way, but harmonious whole of the vibrant blue sky, the rippling gold wheat fields, the lush meadows, the multi-hued wild flowers, the white plaster cottages, the wooden red farmsites, the rolling hills, the sea, the cool breeze... Ven was a Swedish attempt at the Garden of Eden, and I think they got pretty close. The lovely landscape shelters small villages (not even Montevideo would be counted as small; we're talking Wagdahl, people). Every building was a gem, from the more humble gingerbread hut to the graceful red brick church.

Actually, the island has a fascinating history behind it, as well. Originally, in ancient history, it was used by simple farmers merely for sel-sustenance. During the early Rennaissance, however, it was given by the Danish king as a fief to a certain Tycho Brache. Mr. Brache was one of the greatest scientists in Europe, at the time, and on Ven he created the first scientific institution in Europe. With funds equal to 500 times a university professor's salary coming straight from the Danish treasury, Tycho built a fantastic estate dedicated to astrology. He was insistant on controlling every step of the process, lest his work be plagiarized, so he gathered blacksmiths to create custom instruments, masons to build observatories (and his magnificant Rennaissance palace), and even printers and book binders to publish his findings. Ven was a scientific microcosm. Tycho's fantastic allure, fueled by his mysterious scientific prowess and his elegant island estate, is said to have inspired Shakespeare's character Prospero in The Tempest.

Side note -- Mr. Hampton: you will be excited to know that I stood in the very church (St. Mary's, I think) in Helsingborg where Dietrich Buxtehude let it rip on the organ. I know! I couldn't believe it either!

In all, a wonderful stay. I will leave Sweden for Norway, soon, where I will tour briefly before starting my bike tour. I may have internet access during the next few days, but unless you want to hear about sweat, pain, and saddle sores, then I think I will hold off until Stockholm to post.

Take care.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cody Maynus, you are not alone

Day One

Apparently Copenhagen is not famous for its internet cafes, so this is the first time I've had to post anything. Which is just as well, because my brain was already smoking from jet lag, too little tea, and too much Danish language.

The flight was uneventful, but uncomfortable. My large traveling companions needed more room than their seats allowed, so they casually stole my own. The man on my right talked a lot and smelled like beer. The man on my left had a full body rash, which he would constantly scratch and then brush the refuse into the air. I don't believe I breathed for the six hour flight.

I was picked up in Copenhagen by a charming girl who knew neither me nor my family, but her mother pulled out my dad's wisdom teeth and that was as much of a connection as we needed to ask for help. She lent me her family's apartment in the center of Copenhagen (the parents were on vacation), and then took me to dinner with her schoolmates. They were all intelligent, cultured, well-traveled, well-informed, and perfectly charming -- I haven't felt so young in years.

I had all of the next day to myself. I visited the obligatory old church (Our Savior's Church -- famous for its spiraling tower -- at 90 meters, it's the tallest edifice in the city), and then went on to Christiana. Apparently every single Danish king has been named either Frederik or Christian (except for some rebel name H-----, but I think he was a loser), so most of the important places in town are named either Frederik or Christian. This island that I went to was one of the latter variety. Christiana was permitted by the Danish government as a social experiment in the 70's, but they are starting to regret their decision. It is technically not even part of the EU, and its citizens take full advantage of this. This, my friends, is Hippyville. This is Java River as a dictatorship. At first, you aren't sure if you should even be there, because by most criteria it is a ghetto, but with one important difference: it's rainbow-hued. Yes, the stone buildings are crumbling and the streets are mostly dirt, but the finest sculptors, painters and graffiti artists from Hippy U have transformed this slum into something incredible. No hard surface has been left untouched by fountains of color and profound statements (F--- the police! Beauty will save the world!). The whole town is communally owned, and every person has a direct say in their . You wander along back alleys, side streets, and people's back yards to discover this incredible city. As you walk, you find Swiss family Robinson-style tree houses peeping through the trees, fairy-tale plaster cottages with rose gardens, rotting sailboats moored in the bushes and filled with flowers, small stores selling wood-burning stoves, a carefully maintained Hindu temple, and a free photo exhibition of Tibet. And then there's Pusher Street, where the street vendors hawk marijuana and pipes in broad daylight. I passed, and found a lovely shack that sold the best vegetable stew I've ever had. Delish. I almost picked up from the clothes store the undershirt that I forgot to bring, but someone waited a little to long before leaving the shirt. I suffer with what I have.

Throughly pleased by this promising cultural development, I left and visited the Royal Art Museum. Nice paintings, but grotesque sculptures. I'm serious. Weird.

There was big jazz festival going on, so I had a great time rubbing shoulders with the locals in the many gorgeous parks, enjoying a wide variety of live jazz music. There was an amazing singer in the rose garden, who could sing scat like nobody I've ever heard.

I walked home during the rush hour. Bike rush hour. With bike traffic jams. There are so many cyclists on the roads, they've been given their own miniature street, complete with traffic signals. Everybody bikes -- women in suits and high-heel shoes down to young punks in skater duds! Every town square is packed with mountains of parked bikes, and every street is lined with a few. Apparently, it's usually faster to bike than to deal with the Danish transportion system.

Europe is incredible. It's easy to forget, until you come here. The towns are gorgeous (even the supposed unremarkable sections), the people are hip, the food is great, the streets are cobblestone, and the language is delightfully foreign. I'm staying. Just pay my bills.

End of day one.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Some pix of Sam at the airport