Backwards Diary of visit to Norway

As we reached our front door here in Somerset we realised how much rain had fallen judging from the number of puddles in the road. The trip back from Honnefos which is a small town about 80 km away from Oslo was interesting. It is not everyday that we come across 3 km long road tunnels. I think the longest one is 25 km long one. Only a rich country like Norway could cope.

I like the minutiae of travel plans. We left our guests home at about 1030 in the morning, the plane been due to leave at just after one o’clock. They took us to the airport along mostly empty roads. Save for the very densely populated south part of Norway, most of the roads are pretty much empty most of the time. In the United Kingdom, the population per square kilometre is 195 people; in Norway it is 14.3 people. I should add that the United Kingdom is 243,000 km² whereas Norway is 324,000 km making Norway 1.33 times the size of the United Kingdom. There is space for everybody and indeed the government own most of the territory which means that it is a ramblers paradise. Pretty much everyone can go anywhere they please.

And so we drove along the immaculate almost deserted road passing the occasional car. I notice that people do stick to the speed limits. There is one reason. The fines are huge. Irrespective of whether you are a tourist or a local, the minimum fine is 4000 crowns which is about £367. Overall, Norway is a very rich country. People are paid to have children and receive an allowance of 10,000 crowns per month, about £917. There are all sorts of benefits but of course the tax rates are high, up to 45 or 50%

arriving at the airport on time or slightly before, the wife of my post wanted to go and get Starbucks coffee. This caused a minor disagreement because if you take longer than 7 min to drop off your passenger, again you attract a large fine. We entered into the cavernous new airport hall to be faced not with a row of smiling check-in agents but with a row of machines with but one smiling face explaining to us how to use them. Francoise put her passport on the reader as requested but it was not recognised so we had to go to the manual check – in anyway which was uneventful.

I have the manual check-in  honed to a fine art. normally, the system know you are coming and you just give your passports and it is good manners to open at the relevant page with your details on. After having given them the chance to ask the standard question you put the hold luggage on first, one item at a time, and look at the weight so that if it is overweight by any chance, you can do something. When the check-in person has the label on the first case she moves it backwards and you but the second one on. I avoid unnecessary questions because it is pretty obvious when the check-in time is from the boarding card and it is also pretty obvious where you go which is towards the departure area. I always give a smile and a brief joke but basically don’t talk garbage because they don’t have the time.

We then go to this sad area before the dreaded checking in of luggage. The whole idea about containers of over 100 cc of water goes back about 10 years when the police found some instructions in the hands of a group of youths who might have constructed a liquid-based bomb. No proof of viability or effectiveness, just the excuse that the powers that be needed to make life more irritating and more full of fear. So far as I know, no one has ever been caught with anything and millions of page 4 bottles of water and other receptacles of harmless liquids have been confiscated.

Maybe it is due to my age, but I’m not asked to take off my shoes or belt. I put my jacket containing my mobile phone on one of the trays, put my tablet there for all to see and put my hand luggage by it. I have to say that the system in use in Oslo and Gatwick is very good indeed. If you are told exactly where to stand, the trays pop out and this time you do not make any jokes at all about any subject at all. Making jokes about bombs is a very bad idea indeed. 1. Do what you were told 2. Be polite 3. Do not dawdle 4. If you’re luggage goes in the wrong line in other words if they’ve seen something that they’re not happy with, be patient, it will turn up, they will search the bag, they will ask questions, they will then let you go and take something away if necessary. It may be annoying but you do not help yourself by being annoyed. The young man had his toothpaste taken off it because it was in 200 CC container though at the time it was half full.  Bite your lip and say nothing. Being angry will not change the rules however stupid you think they are.

As travellers will know, you have to pay for every single item extra to yourself which Ryanair have got to a fine art. For example if you do not check in on the Internet prior to arrival you had to pay £50 a time to do it on the spot. Norwegian.com are more reasonable. We have discovered that we can pack quite a lot in a 20 kg case so if you add that to 2×10 kg allowance you can take up to 40 kg for the price of one extra case.

Each and every time I take too many clothes, half of which I never wear. Because of the extreme heat that we had endured, up to 28° in the afternoon, I just wore some shorts and a T-shirt so all my carefully ironed shirts were taken to and fro without any use. My favourite items for leaving behind are charging plugs, things that I’ve hung in a cupboard and forgot about them, used underwear and the like sitting in a corner in one of the small drawers. I feel a certain sympathy for people who find them but I’m sure they used most things including ‘soiled’ sheets.

Modern airports have been designed around selling space and you have to go through acres of duty-free perfume, drinks, you name it. It is worth noting though that if you come from a country like Denmark or Sweden or Norway, the duty-free prices of alcohol are far more expensive than buying them paying duty in the United Kingdom that what will happen when we leave the European Union is another question. As I had not had breakfast, I decided to order what turned out to be the most expensive bowl of salad ever. The bowl, and another prepacked item came to 310 crowns which is about £30 in UK money. Francoise said “ does this cost what I think I see (on the till)?” book The girl behind the counter, obviously used to such incredulity, nodded.

Anyone who travels to Norway, or indeed any of the Nordic countries, needs to have a deep pocket. A beer can cost up to 8 pounds UK and they both a snack lunch in an international restaurant we went to was about £35. I don’t how you can eat that much for lunch especially when you’re at a conference and you don’t want to fall asleep.

The plane was late arriving due to the difficulty of getting a disabled passenger onto the aircraft, and then delayed again because of a suspicious package and then delayed again because someone had to be taken off the plane due to irregularities. But more of that anon.

I became aware of a very aggressive American with a beard, headscarf, generally scruffy manner and dress who kept on using bad language and saying that the airline were more useless than last time and he wanted his money back. I thought that was a very good idea because people were giving him strange looks and we would be better rid of him. This culminated in him snatching the checked in ticket and passport from the rather diminutive check-in person. She had been trained in what to do and made a phone call. Funny, I did not see him on the plane. Maybe he was sitting at the front very quietly.

Of more interest, however, was an incident where after sitting for 20 min in the plane, the captain apologised to us for the delay and saying this was because of an immigration issue. At the back of the plane sat a family consisting of, apparently, a husband and wife and four children. The immigration people came on, obviously quite used to this sort of thing, and calmly but politely told us to move out of the way while they did their business. The chap was an Indian as was his wife and the children looked similar. The man was questioned and was asked if he knew the names of the children to which she replied in the negative. Obviously there was some sort of smuggling going on because the children were very young, about five or six, and to my mind that is rather young to be travelling on your own with people you don’t know. After that, we were able to leave albeit an hour late.

We had slight turbulence on the way back, hardly surprising in view of the tempestuous nature of the weather in UK. I find the best antidote to feelings of fear is to look at the horizon, in other words something that does not change, but on this occasion there was no horizon because the whole was obscured by clouds.

On arrival, I decided to have my customary cup of coffee. My instinct for travel booking is actually quite good in fact consistently good. We were due to arrive at 2.05 pm UK time and under normal circumstances I would have allowed a couple of hours to go to Victoria and then walk to the Coach Station but something told me to book the 5:30 PM coach instead of the 4:30 PM coach. The fascinating thing about such guidance is that it includes what can be seen from above so if we had missed the 4:30 PM coach our ticket would have been useless and we would have to have paid £28 single each to get to Bath our destination town. Just to give you some idea, I had paid £31 return for two people. You get a big discount for reduced tickets but cheapest band means that you cannot change your mind will get a refund. So far this policy has worked.

On the coach I met a very nice young man who’s Indian name translated into the word ‘good’. He had been working in the Chinese restaurant scene in Huddersfield which is in Yorkshire. The some reason, he has made a career move and decided to go and see his cousin in Shepton Mallett who is also in the trade and who he hoped was going to give him a job. He had never been down to Somerset before and was a little bit anxious so I chatted with him and encouraged him and told him that we were a very nice bunch of people and at the end I shook his hand and said that I thought he would be all right. I tried to do to others what I would have liked people to do to me. Apart from anything else, as my regular readers will know, I love talking to strangers and joking with them and so on.

Although it was bank holiday weekend, going westerly along the M4 was attended by light traffic. I would not like to go the other way, eastbound, on the bank holiday evening when everyone and his dog is coming back from a long weekend away. I always sit at the front of the coach and make a point of talking to the driver because driving day after day must be a bit boring. I could not places accent but he told me he had been with the company for 15 years and had worked the Bournemouth London run for the last three and now is settled in Bristol. He was a kindly man, genuinely interested in helping people, and with a good sense of humour. Did you know that National Express do not own their own coaches? They are bought by companies, one of whom is called Edwards, and least with driver to the national company.

We arrived in Bath to find that the local bus was just about to leave so we got home in half way decent time. So, for the sad amongst you love timetables (which of course includes me)

10.30 – leave with host by car (no choice as there were no airport shuttles on Sunday mornings)
11.15 – arrive airport
14.00 – take off (delayed by one hour)
15.10 UK – land in Gatwick
16.27 – take train to Victoria (never take the bus, it takes an age)
16.50 – arrive Victoria
17.30 – depart Victoria by coach
20.27 – arrive Bath
20.46 – catch local bus to Midsomer Norton
21.35 – arrive home
21.35.01 – pour glass of wine

Total elapsed time taking into account time change 12h 05 mins

As crow flies –  770 miles

If I were a crow I would need to fly at 64 mph

In general I do not approve of the drive towards automation but the trend towards ticketless travel pleases me. At Gatwick, I just swiped my contactless debit card, and again at the other end and you get charged – simple as that.

Funnily enough, I do not find these long travel days tiring because I just switch off going to some sort of dream world. I find this dream world / semi suspended animation is not consistent with reading books or even reading my Kindle so I don’t bother. Wi-Fi was intermittent so I thought it would do me good to have a day without it.

And so to bed

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