After getting back to Oslo, I met my new host (who prefers not to have his photo on the blog, so I’ll refrain), but it’s been an amazing few days back in the city.
Just when I think there’s nothing else to discover, there’s another entirely new section of the city that I haven’t explored yet and my wanderlust takes over and channels into a frenetic walk.
John (we’ll call him that), my host, has CouchSurfed all over the world and hosted over two HUNDRED surfers. It’s interesting to hear how CouchSurfers via the service/community, and John has more experience than anyone else I know. There have been crazy parties, people have left things, made unwanted advances, and taken advantage of his hospitality, but he’s also made a lot of very good friends all over the world and keeps an active list of his favorite couchsurfers. They meet once a year somewhere in Europe to get back together and hang out. I guess that would be my dream at this point as well.
Even after hosting so many people, he has been incredibly gracious with me. I think he’s got the unbridled hospitality thing pretty much down.
Anyway, we spent the night watching Norwegian television and playing with his crazy dog who likes to hump everything endlessly.
John also has an amazing way of working out the problem of Oslo’s expensive alcohol. Norway’s government has a monopoly on all the alcohol in the country so prices soar here where they’re much less expensive in neighboring countries like Sweden. But also as a result of this, very expensive wines are essentially subsidized, so people flock here to buy expensive wine because it ends up being cheaper here. Weird, yeah?
Anyway, John asks his guests to bring him vodka from the duty-free at the airport, and because he has had so many people here, he has over 50L of vodka stashed away, ready at a moment’s notice. It came in handy when we decided to go out to the bar but didn’t want to drink there.
I’ll skip most of the details but the night ended with me meeting a Norwegian guy who had an epic beard but knew “Let it Go” in French, so that happened.
The next morning I had a pretty gnarly hangover because I don’t drink generally, but made myself get out of bed to go finally see Vigelandsparken, a sculpture park in Oslo. And I’m so glad I did.
That night back at home, we ended up staying in and watching TV while I worked on getting all my photos and video backed up. Probably the most annoying thing about traveling with all these electronics is the sheer amount of data I’m accumulating, and the constant need to upload it into the cloud to free up memory for more. But by golly, there will be photo and video of this entire damn trip.
John convinced me to take the train to Bergen the next day, but we found out the bus tickets were all sold out. I thought to fly, but the airline here has canceled the majority of its flights because its pilots are on strike. Hopefully this won’t affect my flight to Reykjavik on Sunday. Either way, with flying and trains both out of the question, I had one alternative for the eight-hour journey: hitch-hiking.
I’ve been no stranger to hitch-hiking in the past and have picked up a couple of people in the U.S. Generally it’s pretty easy to get around Europe by hitching, but for whatever reason, Norway does not seem to be the greatest place to hitch.
I woke up at 7:30 in the morning to get ready and make sure I had everything before heading out to Drammen again (you don’t want to hitch out of a capital city; it’s impossible). From there it was a three-mile walk to a small bus station near the highway where I was able to hitch pretty easily. One thing to make sure of is that you have a sign if you’re going for long distance, so I fumbled along in Norsk at the gas station because neither attendant spoke English and was able to procure a big cardboard piece and a huge marker to make the sign.
Here’s basically how the trip went:
After waiting an hour and a half at my last stop in some tiny tiny town in the middle of nowhere, it was time to admit defeat and head back to Oslo. Unfortunately, when I made the decision to turn back, the bus had just left and the next was coming two hours later. On top of that, having an American debit card made it impossible to pull cash out at the gas station for the bus (and in trying to do to I had purchased an 8oz black coffee for FOUR DOLLARS) and there were no bank machines anywhere so I was stuck unless the bus driver was going to allow me to not pay. To ease my suffering I went to the supermarket across the street and bought myself a chocolate bar and a huge fruit smoothie (almost a cheesecake too but it was $25). So it looked like hitching back was the only real option at that point.
And indeed the gods did smile down upon me and sent an eccentric Lithuanian to my rescue. I’d had my thumb out for all of ten seconds and he came to a screeching stop, engine purring as if it were choking on a glass of curdled milk.
“Hei! Går du til Oslo? Direktjon Oslo?”
“Um, jeg går til Drammen. Place close to Drammen.”
“Oh, perfect. Can I?” I pointed into the seat.
“Yes, yes! Come in!”
There was no spedometer in the car and I was holding scalding hot coffee in one hand, and before I could get situated we were speeding off like Ragnarok was upon us. As we tore through the incredible birch and oak forests flanking the large river that ran next to the highway, we started the process of getting to know one another.
Justas (like Eustace) had just quit his job earlier that day because they wouldn’t pay him what his coworkers were making due to the fact that he was foreign. He spoke a little English and very basic Norwegian, but was fluent in Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian. Eight years ago he moved to Norway with his wife and two children for better wages and because he loved the area, having previously been on camping trips there. He described Lithuania mostly how I described Missouri: worth visiting, but boring and flat and somewhat lifeless.
When I asked him if he’d hitch-hiked before, he said this was his first time. But as I talked to him about America and traveling and vagabonding, he couldn’t stop smiling and was obviously very excited to have me there.
“You are first american I ever meet! Some days you know, they are all the same. You work, you eat, you sleep. You work again. This is very good day. I’m talking to American! Can I have picture with you? I want to show my family.”
“Yeah, of course!” I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple photos, then did the same with his camera. He also got my email address so he could contact me if he ever decided to visit the U.S. Sharing economy for the win!
He took me all the way to Drammen and I caught a bus (for free… Accidentally) to the train station to get back to Oslo. I was ready to pass out (I forgot to mention there is an unbelievable amount of walking inherent in effective hitching), but John had other plans.
We invited Jonathan over (remember, this is the first host I had in Oslo whom I’d met in the Canary Islands in 2013) and we all went out to an actual restaurant for dinner before getting mixer and hitting the vodka and wine again.
I’m not even sure how it’s possible, but John and I were out until nearly 4:30 in the morning, dancing the night away to Norwegian techno-pop and English top 40. Most Norwegian bars close at 3:30 and stop serving at 3, in case anyone is interested in that info.
Most of that day was spent in recovery (again… Oops). But two cartons of orange juice later, everything was perfect.
And to top things off, John sent me on my way with half a bottle of vodka to share with my Drammen friends before karaoke.
Getting back to Drammen was like going home. Liv greeted me again with her exceedingly bright smile and offered me an amazing dinner. It’s nice to have friends 🙂
Anastasia was coming over later that night with her work friends, so we finished up dinner and made fruit smoothies with the vodka I’d brought. Around 10:30 when Anastasia and her colleagues came back, we hung out a bit before going out and finding karaoke wasn’t on. Actually, the bar was totally closed save for a couple of older dodgy-looking men with overgrown beards. Liv took us to another bar instead, where I bought a single local beer for $10. Whoops.
Liv explained earlier that day something called “Russ,” which is a sort of three-week-long party that high schoolers do right before they graduate. All the seniors wear these overalls every single day and are not allowed to wash them, and they basically do crazy stuff in and outside of school until they graduate. There are online lists of things that students can do depending on their school, and they get a flat red hat with a small visor, which comes with a string attached. For every one of the crazy event things you do, you get to put a knot in the hat with a small item.
For example, Liv ate an entire Big Mac in two bites. TWO BITES. So she got a knot on the string with a little cardboard cutout of the McDonalds M. Other things you can do include having sex a specific number of times, sleeping in a tree, doing a sleepover in the school gym, and drinking a whole beer with two tampons in your mouth (you keep them in your cheeks like a chipmunk).
May 17 is Norway Day and also the last day the kids have to wear their overalls and do crazy things; everyone brings out their flags, there are parades around the country, people get drunk and happy and loud.
We stayed up quite late (like 4am) just talking about all sorts of things with one of the guys who had stayed out with us before I finally couldn’t stay awake anymore and fell asleep othe couch after making sure to set my alarm. And then everything went south.
I woke to Liv’s voice.
“Um, what is Brandon still doing here?”
I jerked awake. “What time is it?” I pulled out my phone. 7:32.
“What time is your flight?”
“8:35. And it takes… An hour to get to the airport?”
Heart pounding, still groggy from not having slept well in several days, I threw all of my things on and tried to maintain a positive tone of voice. I was already sweating buckets. A flytog (express train) left at 7:42, so I got all my stuff together as fast as I could and shot out the door, running like a maniac with four layers on and an extra 20 pounds on my back in sunny, 45 degree weather.
I have no idea how I made it to the station so quickly. My body was fighting against how hard I wanted to push it. Immediately on entering the bus station, I yell-asked someone breathlessly, “Hvor er flygtoget?!”
“Oh, track… Three?”
I could see the train already sitting on the tracks and ran as hard as I could. There was no time to buy a ticket so I just ran through the underground tunnel up to the track and JUST as the door was closing stuck my arm through and made it on. The few people in the train car turned to look the pathetic mess covered in sweat and heaving as if air were in limited supply.
There was just a glimmer of hope that my flight would be delayed or canceled due to the ongoing strike, but as far as I could tell everything was running smoothly for my flight. And when I tried to make calls to the airline and the airport, they wouldn’t go through. I started having a panic attack and the stewardess noticed I was having issues, so she brought me a little bottle of water.
We arrived at the airport exactly on time one hour later at 8:42. Running past everyone, I wasn’t ready to give up hope until I saw the line of people waiting for the airline help desk. There were at least fifty people waiting to be helped. But desperate times made giving a flying hoot about politeness very hard, so I marched right up to the desk and interrupted the people that were getting help.
“I’m sorry, has the 8:35 flight to Reykjavik been canceled or delayed?”
“Uh…” the woman at the computer responded. “Well…” I held up my travel paper to her so she could see the flight information. The couple I’d interrupted were holding their Norwegian passports like police badges and looked entirely confused about what I was doing there.
“I’m sorry, yes, that flight has left.”
My heart sank.
Now, here’s the short version of a very long and very dramatic two hour journey to getting another ticket:
Look sad. Like really, really sad.
Look even more sad and sit down, throwing coat and jacket onto the ground to cool off and try to think straight.
Look at other ticket prices.
Weigh the pros and cons of spending $437 for a ticket at 2pm or $273 for a ticket the next day which was a 9 hour flight with a stopover in Germany, and have to take the train to and from Drammen once again, skip the interview with Árstiðir and put off going to Iceland again.
Call boyfriend for support and venting.
Decide on the expensive ticket, equivalent to 15 days of my budget.
Be declined on both my credit card and debit card for the purchase, realize I’d put a purchase limit of $300 a day on both cards.
Call the bank.
Be on hold for twenty minutes.
After four tries and two differnt booking websites, a ticket goes through.
Reinstate spending limit.
Since spending limit has been exceeded for the day, can’t buy anything at the airport.
Call bank again.
Lift spending limit again. Leave it that way.
Get a gift (as a favor) for my hosts in Reykjavik.
Fall asleep for two hours.
GO TO ICELAND INCREDIBLY HAPPILY DESPITE ALL THE PROBLEMS.