Thursday, 2 August 2012


2nd Aug 2012

Back in London amidst all the Olympic hoo-hah which Boris Johnston appears to be enjoying so enormously reminds me of something. It was probably reflected in parts of the extremely long Games Opening Ceremony which I endured on TV. It was absolutely nothing to do with the superannuated, plastically enhanced, dyed and vocally challenged 'Sir' Paul McCartney. By the way, has anyone noticed how alike he now is to Ken Dodd ( without the sense of humour )? What a disastrous finale that was!
It was apparent to me on my extended travels that there are three aspects of the UK, and ONLY three, which are universally recognised, admired and enjoyed by the entire population of the world. I encountered this recognition from the subways of New York to the minority tribes in the north-west of Vietnam, on the steppes of Mongolia and poorest parts ofMexico, in the temples of Burma and on Red Square in Moscow, absolutely everywhere in fact. They are:
1. Premier League Football
2. The Royal Family
3. Mr Bean

Just thought I'd mention it.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


After 17th June 2012.

Jules, Hottie and Martin

From Harwich it was back to my original start point up at Mundesley, Norfolk, to be revived by Martin and Jules. This visit gave some symmetry to my voyage. It didn't seem that long ago that I left their front door on my way to catch the MS Tanzania at Felixtowe on the 25th January 2011.
As promised, and primarily for my own benefit if and when I go on further voyages, I aim here to lay out lists and tips for planning purposes. It might help others and I expect there are some areas of which I am still ignorant ( or just plain wrong ) and better solutions have already been identified. If so, I hope someone will advise me. Nothing like passing on information and recounting disasters to make people aware and avoid the same pitfalls. I usually try not to forget the six Ps; Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance, or major disasters anyway. Having said that, the only serious prior planning I did was sorting out my tedious domestic affairs before I left and booking each container ship passage about a couple of months ahead. Travelling on these ships requires early(ish) reservations, a medical certificate ( it inconveniences the crew to have to fill in all the paperwork for burials at sea or keep your body in cold storage which takes up valuable beer and food space ) and a bit of documentation done through agents. Other than that I planned everything else on the back of the proverbial 'fag packet' as I went along and never bothered with prior accommodation reservations. Even the 'Palace on Wheels' and the 'Hurtigruten Cruise' were booked only a few days before they left; and I got a discount for the last minute bookings! I was prepared to be entirely flexible. I also wanted to publish a final blog just so that I can title it 'THE END', because the first one, if I remember correctly, was entitled 'THE BEGINNING'. 
I will arrange and edit this as I go along, so initially, in no particular order, a few things which I benefitted from, or fell foul of. You will get it in instalments. Eventually. It will be amended periodically as I think of other things to add.
1. MONEY. The advice which I received from my UK bank ( Lloyds TSB Canary Wharf branch ) in preparation for a prolonged absence, with no fixed abode, during which I would require access to funds worldwide was, quite simply, non-existent through appalling to downright misleading. In my ignorance, and I was admittedly somewhat naive and in a hurry, they persuaded me to transfer money into one of their deposit accounts with a pathetic interest rate from which I could move funds to a current account and from which I could withdraw cash, when necessary, using a debit card. Also to take one of their credit cards, and sign up to some ( £6.99p per month ), useless as it turned out, fraud alerting scheme. They robbed me blind with a scandalous exchange rate, the credit card never worked for some reason and they even had the nerve to charge me £50 plus later penalties the following year for holding it without using it. All the debit card withdrawals abroad were subject not only to the foreign bank charges but also to a % charge by Lloyds. Lloyds TSB benefitted from me, and certainly not the other way around! Bandits.
I actually went ballistic about this just after leaving which I followed up with a vengeance on my return and, to avoid bloodshed in front of other customers and losing whatever little money I had left banked with them, they gave me a reasonable sum in compensation and paid me back all my ATM and other expenses. It pays to be utterly persistent and an unforgiving Mr Seriously Bloody Angry Basil Fawlty with these greedy blood-suckers and they will re-fund you, a bit, from their bottomless pit of filthy lucre. Although many of you will be much more financially astute than me, and there are no doubt many alternative ways of preparing one's finances efficiently, the basics that I would have changed prior to departure, and the few things I got right are:
  1. Open a deposit and current account with an international bank such as HSBC, CityBank or even ANZ. You will find branches of these in most parts of the world and if you have a financial hiccup they should be able to sort you out on the spot.
  2. Take one of those international cards onto which you can transfer amounts of money ( free ) and withdraw cash at ATM machines without charge.
  3. Get some advice from an independent source and not from a provincial UK bank!
  4. I used a MBNA credit card which proved fine. No annual charges and, as far as I am aware, gathered no fraudulent expenditure.
  5. I kept MBNA aware of where I was going and to be aware if any charges were made from other countries unexpectedly. I thought they were rather helpful.
  1. Point of Contact in UK. This is essential for peace of mind. I had a mate in UK who was willing and able to hold copies of various important documents on his computer so, should I lose any, or my computer, he could transmit copies to an internet cafe or anywhere else. He was also available to run any 'emergency' errands if necessary
  2. Insurance. I took out a year policy, the max they would do, for worldwide travel with a company called ‘Insure and Go’. It cost me about £500, but did not cover loss of any valuable items ( over £150 ). I regretted this when my expensive computer was irreparably damaged. I had to extend the period of cover for another six months from India and they were initially reluctant to do so. As it happened I had no need to use any of their insurance so didn’t put it to the test. 
  3. Copies of passport and visas. I had these as photocopies, documents on my computer and, if that all failed, copies with my ‘point of contact’ in UK.
  4. Passport photos. Hold a generous supply for visas and other things, like ship ID cards etc. Keep printable copies on computer. Saves searching in vain for a passport photo shop in Bongobahatmingtung, or wherever
  5. Codes, PINs, passwords. Needed to access numerous accounts and computer services. I kept several copies of personally encrypted, and to any potential thief incomprehensible, passwords etc. One in each bag. 
  6. UK mail. Royal Mail redirection to my UK point of contact ( POC ).
  7. Contact telephone nos. Again, important contact numbers for banks, services, insurance, and anything else you can think of, to be kept on paper and computer, encoded if necessary. The one thing I was always aware of was someone nicking any bags or documents I carried and then be able to access my confidential details.
  8. Notebook and diary. I found both invaluable. Like any good army officer, I carried a small pocket notebook and pencil wherever I went. Often came in useful.
  9. UK plastic driving licence. This is, of course, necessary should you wish to hire a car. I was never asked for the paper bit. I only used a car once, in Tasmania. The UK plastic licence, once you had carefully superimposed an ‘official’ badge on it ie EU stars, UN logo, Armed Forces etc, then photocopied and laminated the result was good enough to fool some foreign countries ( one in particular which you can probably guess ) into giving you a hotel or tour discount. I even had one headed with Alcoholics Anonymous which I never did find a use for.
  1. Dummy wallet. I always carried a cheap soft wallet containing a selection of out of date credit/debit cards, my Dennis the Menace Fan Club membership card and a small amount of local currency. This was to be deployed should some bandido come up and wave a gun or knife at me and demand my money or my life. They never did. My real cards and money were carefully zipped up or left elsewhere. In fact this wallet was one of only three things that I lost on the entire journey; it was pickpocketed, from an open pocket, by Romanian brats in Oslo central station I think. I had got complacent and had rather forgotten about it by then. The only other things I lost were my Alcatraz baseball cap which I left on the bus on arrival at Guadelajara, and my Burmese walking stick which I left on a train in Hanoi.
  2. Storage of valuables. When travelling I kept valuable docs ( ie passport, tickets and wallet with cash and cards ) in strong zip pockets inside my jacket. Second most valuable things ( ie computer, camera, rat ) I kept in my small backpack which never left my sight. Of course I never kept back-ups in the same case as the originals. I never left valuables in hotel room safes which can be accessed by dishonest staff who know the emergency opening codes ( often 0000 with a # or * ) Where else would they look to find valuables? I hid them somewhere in a lock up suitcase. I only took the minimum needed when out on the wander ( plus my dummy wallet of course ).
  3. Cases. Initially my main bag was a very nice large zip-up model with towing handle and wheels. It was fine but I soon learnt that zips on unattended baggage are very vulnerable, even if padlocked. You just stick a pointed object ( like a biro ) through the zip and it breaks open. Someone did this to my bag on the rare flight I took between Panama and Lima. They also broke open a small padlock. Nothing was stolen, but it had been opened. I got it repaired ( something you can do in Lima ). When I got to Singapore I replaced it with a bright red hard lock-up suitcase which, although heavier, had good wheels and was much more secure and user friendly. I also put a garish purple coloured lock-strap around it both for added security and easy recognition. You could sit on it apart from anything else. I also carried a small trolley bag ( blue with pink spots ), and a very small backpack. By the way, get bags of weird bright colours. Black or grey bags are so common that people often mistake theirs for yours or vice-versa. A thief would be reluctant to run off with a blue pink spotted model as much to preserve his macho image as for the fact that it would be instantly recognisable.
  4. Check lists. I always ran through a check list of valuable items before leaving any location; room, train, cabin...anywhere. It became second nature ( pilot training and previous habit probably helped ). I used a mnemonic to remember this list. In my case it covered watch, wallet, specs, passport, papers ( tickets ), camera, computer, pen, keys, hat. Make your own up of course.
  5. Stay sober. Of course I don’t mean stay sober all the time! I just mean stay sober when you are packing or on the move or wandering around down-town. As  I think I have already pointed out somewhere, 90% of travelling mishaps of whatever nature occur to people when they are pissed. It is almost stating the bleedin’ obvious, but bears repeating because it seems to go on happening to the stupid and ignorant . Thems what overindulge almost deserve to be robbed, lose things, miss deadlines, fall off balconies, drown, get into fights, get run-over, get beaten up, get lost, get ripped off and the list goes on.
  6. Avoid dodgy areas. It is not difficult to realise when you are somewhere dodgy ( unless, of course, you are pissed ). Every country/city/town has them including, to a greater extent than many, London and all big American cities. Enough said.
  7. Taxis. Another subject dear to my heart. Once you are in a taxi you are at the mercy of the driver. BEWARE, especially in 3rd world countries where dangers range from just being ripped-off to being abducted and robbed or even robbed and murdered. Always order taxis from a reliable source.
  8. Documents. As mentioned, you need to carry sensitive details such as passwords and codes for financial and personal information. Just make sure they are kept secure and suitably encrypted and make sure you would not be embarrassed if any bag or computer was stolen.

  1. Computer. I am ignorant about computers. I took a small and expensive one. I should have taken a small and cheap one. However 'tough and rugged' the smooth-patter salesman says they are, they are all wrecked by just a splash of liquid in the wrong place. I also learnt ( after mine was destroyed by liquid ) that you can buy keyboard protection 'skins' which protect effectively against liquid spills. It begs the question 'why don't they sell these computers with protection against spills in the first place?' Because they want you to wreck your computer so you have to buy a new one, that's why! Bandits again. I expect everyone reading this will be more computer savvy than me. I expect everyone is aware of carrying, in a seperate bag, a hard-drive back-up.
  2. Camera. I used a small Lumix/Panasonic job which fittted into my pocket and which produced decent enough photos. I saw some tourists carrying enormous lumps of photographic equipment. Some looked as if it needed wheels. They must have been knackered just carrying it around, not to mention the expense and chance of it getting damaged or stolen. I mean, unless you are doing a professional job for National Geographic or similar, you just need something that takes decent snaps with which to bore your friends and family when you get home. I kept a back up of my photos on a memory stick as well as on my computer.
  3. Kindle. ( or any electronic book I suppose ). Invaluable. I think I read more books ( of the trashiest kind I hasten to add ) during this journey than in the whole of the rest of my life put together. Electronic books are marvellous for story books, but not good for guide books ( ie Lonely Planet and of that ilk ), because with these you need to be able to flick back and forth and make notes and jottings. 
  4. Alarm clock. Useful. You can also use your mobile phone, but a cheap plastic alarm clock by the bed or bunk I found more user friendly and effective ‘cos you can see the time when you wake up.
  5. Ziplock plastic bags. Incredibly useful. They cost bugger-all and I bought about 20 of these in America and they served me for the rest of the trip to store items such as electic adaptors, chargers, pens, memory sticks and a multitude of other little things which otherwise would have got tangled up or lost.
  6. Mobile phone. Actually, I never used one, except in Vietnam where I had my old basic Nokia model and which worked perfectly, and cheaply ( 2p per minute ), after not having been there for 18 months ( in UK they pack up after 6 months and cost the earth on a pay-as-you-go system ) and also sometimes as a back-up alarm clock. I don’t have one of those ‘smart-phones’ or ‘i-phones’ or anything like it. It is just another expensive small item to lose or get stolen, and anyway I think you have to buy new ‘sim’ cards for them when you change country. Not sure about that. I found the ‘Skype’ service on my PC, and I had a small credit account to enable ringing landlines worldwide, incredibly efficient, user friendly and, above all, even when skyping long distance on phone links, incredibly cheap. Most calls to mobiles or land-lines were only about 2p a minute, or less. A £10 credit lasted me a couple of months on average. I am a Skype fan now. I will use Skype in favour of any other rip-off communication system when back in Blighty.
  7. Calculator. OK, I know these calculator facilities are on all computers and smart-phones etc., but I found carrying a basic cheap little pocket calculator useful. You can whip ‘em out quickly to check how much you are being diddled at money changing facilities without having to fiddle through the programs on an expensive ‘clever’ device.
  8. Adaptors and charging units. I kept these separated in ziplock plastic bags, in a larger bag in my suitcase. In fact I gathered a considerable quantity of them. It was probably the heaviest collection of gizmos that I carried. I didn’t realise that so many countries in the world had their own separate electric plug systems, and I found I had chargers for so many things ( PC, camera battery, Kindle, mobile phones, even my electric toothbrush! ). Perhaps I should have discarded some, but I didn’t. I still have Peruvian adaptors which, as far as I can see, are not useful anywhere else. But they might have been; who knows.
  9. Tools and maintenance. Leatherman ‘multi-tool’, bottle opener, corkscrew, knife/fork/spoon ( KFS ), scissors, heavy duty adhesive tape, selection of padlocks, super-glue, roll of string, Stanley knife, large 18” long hefty spanner which I kept to hit things with and, if in doubtful company ( taxis in Mexico ), as a handy close-quarter weapon. Not needed as such, thankfully.    
  1. Sleeveless jacket.The most useful item of clothing, by far, for me was a lightweight sleeveless jacket. I had a couple of these. To get a good one is like finding ‘rocking-horse droppings’. I don’t mean a stupid fancy looking ‘fisherman’s’ thing with thousands of pockets, rings to hang things from and patches, I mean a simple, unostentatious, light, tough, comfortable jacket with four outer pockets and, importantly, two large zip-up inner pockets for wallet and documents ( such as passport ) when travelling. This light jacket can be worn under heavier cold-weather clothing if necessary. It is surprising how rare quality garments of this type are. I think I will design a suitable product when I have the time.
  2. Cold weather kit. I carried with me all the way my cold weather kit i.e. quality North Face jacket, gloves, woolly hat, thick socks, heavy sweater etc. I used them on MS Tanzania, in northern USA, Canada, south island of New Zealand, Mongolia, Siberia, Norway. So for the greater part of the journey they were just bulky heavy baggage. Maybe it would have been more efficient to have bought cheap warm stuff when I needed it and chucked it afterwards. I hate throwing stuff away. Why else would I find a model of the Statue of Liberty, packs of awful CDs, a large atlas, German dictionary, book of magic tricks, a large plastic bottle of Sri Lankan herbal tonic, maps and travel guides from most of the places I visited, three Indian race-cards, 5 hats which I never wore, a fistful of fridge magnets and goodness knows what else in my suitcase on unpacking in London. No wonder my suitcase weighed a ton. On the positive side, it made it more difficult for a thief to run off with it.
  3. Perhaps the real message regarding clothes is not to pack too many and buy and discard as you go. I only ever had one pair of shoes at a time ( I got through 4 pairs ); ones that were sturdy and comfortable to walk longish distances in. 

6. GUIDE BOOKS I used a selection, and they are rather essential if you don’t want to waste a lot of time and to make the most of your visits. The most consistent was Lonely Planet which was particulary reliable for info on accomodation and gave a good selection of different price ranges. I never pre-booked hotels and by avoiding, by accident, the busy tourist periods, never had a problem in finding a room; until I got to Denmark. Rough Guide is much more oriented just towards the back-packer. I remember using a Fodors and Frommers in Central America and Australia respectively. They were excellent too, especially the Fodors for Central America.  I could only find a Michelin one in St Petersburg ( the others had sold out ) for the Nordic countries and which was absolutely useless in comparison. Sometimes I just had to take what I could find. They were all pretty expensive and I had to leave them behind at a grateful hostelry or with someone I met when I left the country. It is possible to download them from a computer or onto Kindle, but I reckon it is necessary to be able to thumb through them, sometimes on the street, and make notes in them. The LP guides tended to have excellent city maps. Even so, they are not foolproof and contained several inaccuracies.

7. PHRASE BOOKS.  What a joke they are! The problem with most of them is that you should not need to speak a language you can't understand in ‘phrases’, and it is even counterproductive when trying to do so. If you do actually manage to make yourself understood ( unlikely ) to a Chinaman in Mandarin asking something like “Which is the best way to Tiananmen Square”, the answer he gives you will be entirely unintelligible unless you speak fluent Mandarin which rather defeats the idea of having a phrase book in the first place. They also have loads of utterly unneccessary rubbish in them along the lines of “stop the coach, the postillion has been hit by lightening” or “I think you dance very well”. They might as well add things like “...and you don’t sweat much for a fat lass”.....I mean, what a load of cobblers. I remember a phrase in a Welsh language phrase book; "Can you tell me where I can get coverage for my mobile phone?". Can you conceive of any Welshman out in the hills or valleys of Wales who doesn't speak English but who would have intimate knowledge of mobile phone coverage? Ridiculous! These books just look nice and sell at biggish prices to the gullible and are, on the whole, useless. What you need is a small pamphlet, or even a single sheet of paper, with key words on it. You know like “stop”, “yes”, “no”, "arrive", “go”, “when”, “bugger off” etc. etc. plus numerals, days of the week, months, and other essentials, even pictures, for use in extremis. I have discovered just the thing; slim ‘pocket dictionaries’ published by Periplus ( ), or what used to be Tuttle Publishing. They slip easily into a pocket, are so simple and basic to use and have all the words you will need at a glance both from English to Language and vice-versa. I have had many an interesting conversation with foreigners using these by passing the little volume back and forth between us. I remember nearly buying an elephant by mistake using this method. I think major UK bookshops have them or can order them. I got a couple over the internet. In fact the only countries where I had even remote difficulty with locals ( of the tourist orientated variety ) not speaking enough English to get by were bits of China ( I was impressed by how much English was spoken in Peking and the proliferation of signs in English thanks, I suppose, to the 2008 Olympics ), Mongolia, Russia and parts of Central America. Outside the hotels, Russia was perhaps the most awkward.

  1. Innoculations. I got the minimum essential jabs before I left. I was told that some innoculations can even have bad side effects. Someone mentioned Hepatitis B and Japanese Encephalytis ( forgive spelling ) in this light. I am not a medical expert of course, but I don’t like the idea of pumping my body full of chemicals which are not absolutely necessary. I think I had Hepatitis A and Tetanus/Typhoid jabs. I most certainly never took any anti-malarial stuff. It really isn’t necessary unless you are off to live in the jungle. I remember being compelled to take some ghastly green pills ( anti-malaria ) called Doxycyclin for a period of 8 months when working in Cambodia. They made me feel quite ill, and had worse and quite long lasting effects on some others. Of course Americans are persuaded, using fear tactics and concerted advertising by pharmaceutical companies, to buy every vaccine, pill and prophylactic known to mankind. I remember one couple on the Palace on Wheels train who proudly showed me a whole suitcase full of drugs which they humped around with them. It was one of their main topics of conversation ( yawn yawn ). They have probably both died from an overdose of something by now. So, regarding pills and potions; get real. I reckon judicious infusions of whisky, gin, beer and wine get rid of most bugs. In any event I didn’t suffer from anything as far as I can remember! The fewer pills you take the better in my humble opinion.
  2. Medical treatment. The only treatment I required was in Adelaide, Oz, after my arm swelled up after being attacked on the Ghan train by bed bugs. The Aussie medical system even provided me with some sort of repayment and medical ‘card’ for treatment by an excellent ( British ) doc in a local clinic. I knew the treatment you would receive in most places, especially Costa Rica, Panama, Singapore, Thailand ( they all specialise in treating foreigners as well as their own ) would be excellent. I had to get medicals to travel on the container ships ( they don't want to risk the bureaucracy of burials at sea ) and found remarkably smart, efficient, pleasant and inexpensive clinics to do this in Costa Rica, Panama, Lima. Russell ( NZ ) and Adelaide. There is nothing in these places like the squalor and mayhem that exists in many of the medical establishments in UK.
  3. Documents. Of course I had insurance to cover any serious medical treatment and repatriation which thankfully was not needed. I remembered to keep the little insurance plastic card with me. I also carried the European Health Insurance card ( EHIC ) issued in UK before I left. I gather that this is also valid in Russia. It gets you free/cheap treatment in the participating countries.
  4. Medical kit. I carried lots of seasick preventions; elastic things to go around my wrists and pills. I used them initially because I was not at all keen, paranoid perhaps, about getting seasick ( I had a very bad experience many years ago on a smart yacht in the Med after a delicious lunch; an experience which put me off boats for life ). As it happened I never did get sick even when I stopped taking these pills soon after leaving UK. I didn’t even bother when the sea was pretty rough on the ferry between N & S islands in New Zealand. I must have become immune. I carried immodium for tummy upsets which I didn't get, and some stuff to clear yourself of lice or fleas if unlucky enough to become infested. Apart from the bed bugs on the Ghan I didn’t get any other things crawling over me and sucking my blood. Or if they did I didn’t notice.


     a. Always give yourself plenty of time.
     b. Don't trust anyone who offers unsolicited services or goods.

     c. Get references and advice from an impartial source.

     d  Don't believe anyone who gives advice who hasn't been there and done it themself, recently.

     e. Is it safe or good? Use your instinct and if in doubt, don't.

     f. You lose money on exchange rates. Avoid unnecessarily converting currencies.

     g. In Oz and NZ join their YHA hostels association.

     h. If you 'have' it, carry ID for forces, UN, government agencies in USA. Hotel discounts follow.

     j. Ask for local advice on tipping and DON'T if the locals don't, except in USA where it is compulsory .        at 15 - 20% !!

     k. Have a check list for kit.



Saturday, 16 June 2012


15th - 16th June 2012

End of the Journey
I had a decent supper on board the splendid HMS Stena Brittanica and watched most of the footy where, uncharacteristically, "Ingerlund Ingerlund" won. I thought they performed rather well and seemed to display rare good manners and fair play; but then I know diddly squat about football.
Earlyish to bed in comfortable cabin and the next thing I knew it was a happy 'Good Morning' call over the PA system at 0500hrs. We were due to disembark at 0630hrs. I was back in UK. So thats it. Journey over, I suppose; or as we used to say in the army 'ENDEX'.
Not many pics of the return because I really couldn't be buggered to find my way up to the promenade deck on the roof to take a snap of what, frankly, looked a dull view over an ordinary harbour in fairly dismal overcast weather. I just got off and wandered down a long covered passageway to check in through what is now called Border Control. Not even a sight of the ship after stepping out of it. The Border Control people were dressed in rather scruffy black tie-less shirts. Why do our officials ( in most agencies ) seem to wish to look so down-at-heel and sport what can only be described as the baggy, unkempt Oxfam style? They are, as we put it, in shag order. Other nations' officials tend to take pride in looking smart in well fitting, stylish uniforms, polished shoes and are well groomed. Having said that, the lady who checked me in was at least polite and cheerful. Maybe they are trying to cultivate the 'homely and casual' look. Personally I think they lack a good Sarn't Major to smarten 'em up and give them a bloody good rifting and, from what I have read, their so called 'officers' are a bit of a shambolic, irresponsible and 'slopey-shouldered' shower. It shows.
I reckon I've had a most entertaining and educational trip around the globe, having visited 31 countries ( and I count Hong Kong as separate from China, which in fact it still is as any Hong Kong resident will tell you ). It has been done in a fairly relaxed fashion in just less than 18 months; 508 days to be precise, but who's counting. Well I was, obviously. If time and money had permitted I might have taken in more countries but the only additional places I would like to have gone to, but didn't, were; Alaska, Japan, Egypt, most of the rest South America, lots of Eastern Europe especially Poland and Turkey and perhaps the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania group. It is good to leave a few places for future ramblings.
Of the countries I did visit I really only scratched the surface, but got a reasonable idea of what they are like. Some places I am keen go back to, to explore and enjoy further. In many ways this scamper around the world was just a bit of a 'recce'.
The inevitable question people ask is "which country did you like the best?" It is impossible to answer, because one thing I did confirm is an already firmly held belief that all places/countries/nations have their pluses and their minuses, pros and cons, good things and bad things, good people and bad people. People are people the world over; and they are governed, and manipulated ( and lied to ), for better or for worse, by systems that are essentially beyond their control, however much the 'powers that be' pretend otherwise. They are then duly subjected to that government's laws, like 'em or not. I could, but it would be rather pointless, list all the things I, personally, found agreeable or otherwise in each country, so I won't. You should go and see for yourself, because your views are your own. Some people like marmite, some hate it.  I mean, some weird people in this country might even enjoy all the intrusive 'elf 'n' safety and surveillance procedures to which we are subjected nowadays ( for our own safety and protection, of course ) including those constant and maddening public transport 'announcements', or even wish them to go further. As individuals we don't really have any choice. Nowhere is perfect. That is for sure.
I will post this off as my FINAL BLOG, but may at some stage add an appendix chiefly for my own benefit, but which might also be of use to others wishing to do a bit of long distance travelling. It will list tips for kit, admin and procedures which I have learnt, often the hard way, over the past 18 months. Having said that, I never experienced any serious problems despite all the horror stories I was regaled with by well meaning 'advisers'. Neither did I feel it necessary to invent some dramas and crises to improve the story, as I am sure most successful travel writers do! For me the reality was good enough.


Friday, 15 June 2012


13th - 15th June 2012

Das Ferry Kapitan, Hans Kniess von Bumpsedazy 
Achtung Spitfeuer! Donner und Blitzen, mein Schmeisser ist kaput. Verdamt Britische schweinhund. Jawohl Herr Obersturmbahnfuhrer. Noch ein bier bitte. All my Kraut lingo is flooding back now that I have reached Hamburg. I rolled up to the Hauptbahnhof information centre on arrival and ordered the lady at the desk to "hande hoch und herausfinden ein Hotel, schnell schnell !! ". Luckily nobody understood my Deutsche which has been almost entirely gleaned from those great 1950s War Picture Library comics, you know, the ones where when Jerry gets shot he goes "aaaargh!" and when a Nip is shot he goes "aieee!" I digress. Helpfully, despite my ribald comments, she found me a decently priced and, as it turned out, remarkably comfortable hotel room within 5 minutes walk from the station, the Hotel Alte Wache. Recommended.
I had set out on the train from Copenhagen at the civilised hour of 11.45am. It was one of those high-speed Deutschebahn ICE trains, although nowhere near as high-speed and modern as the ones out of Peking that I used to get to Tianjin. The Danish countryside looked remarkably flat, boring and beautifully manicured.

Left: Das ferry. We stopped at Rodby ( on the south coast of somewhere in Denmark ) and the train rolled onto a ferry. I didn't notice this because I was sound asleep at the time and thus became rather confused when I was woken up, ordered off the train and stumbled upstairs to the reception area on a ship. I thought we had reached Hamburg. There were excellent dining facilities for the 50 minute crossing to the German town of Putgarten. It must have been a German ship because I was immediately hit by that unmistakable aroma of Currywurst mit Pommes.
Back onto the train, through more flat and well mown farmland and we arrived at the Hanseatic city-state of Hamburg at 4.20pm.
I am not exactly breaking new territory with Hamburg. I remember the place well ( well, I remember going there often ) when stationed with the army at the garrison town of Fallingbostel about 80kms to the south. This was 40 years ago.
I decided to go on a nostalgic U-Bahn ride to St Pauli, and the notorious Reeperbahn. Yes, it is still there in all it's tawdry best. The Salambo ( and a few of those reading this will remember that delightful and sophisticated establishment with fondness and enormous embarrassment ) seems to have disappeared. Can't remember who it was ending up naked in a soapy bath there, or worse in some cases. The Eros Centre is still going, but I didn't recognise any of the staff. It seems amazing now that we ( some of us ) regularly drove here, an hour and a half up the autobahn, after an already debauched Dinner in the Mess for a night of entertainment and, mortally drunk, got back to barracks by about 0400hrs and were on 'first parade', smart as parrots, at 0800hrs. It brings back memories, amongst many others, of Buzz's car, the metallic blue BMW 2002 convertible with 'wide magnesium wheels', the height of sophisticated vehicular conveyance in those days, and the many narrow escapes from various drunken escapades. Good grief; I could not even think of doing it now.
I seemed to have arrived in Hamburg on the evening Germany were playing Holland at the Euro footy competition. There were many thousand youngish 'lads' and 'ladettes' with black, red and yellow stripes on their faces plus black, red and yellow silly hats and other accoutrements all crowding the U-Bahn and wandering the streets. They were boisterously fuelling up on lager to prepare themselves for the match. I considered it wise to make a tactical and orderly withdrawal to mein Hotel before the end of the game and thus avoid the jolly street celebrations/commiserations. I believe Germany won, so expect there was carnage in St Pauli and elsewhere.
Hamburg is a relatively pleasant city with decent shops, restaurants and some very smart houses and hotels, especially around the Alster lakes. It doesn't, however, have any particularly notable landmarks as far as I am aware, so not much to take photos of. Right: Haven't a clue what this is supposed to represent, but was standing in the Hauptbahnhof and one of few things to snap.
The next day I really couldn't be bothered to visit any museums or other 'sights'. I am somewhat 'museumed out' by now, so as it was warm and sunny I went on the longish walk around both the Binnen and Ausen Alster lakes. It was very quiet with few people about. Thousands of little yachts and boats were mostly tied up at pontoons around the edge. This might have been because it was Thursday and the industrious Germans were at work or, more likely, a considerable proportion of inhabitants were still in bed nursing monumental hang-overs following the successful footy match of the previous night.

Left: I think I remember this chap standing in the middle of Ausenalster many years ago. Still waiting for his taxi.

Up one side there were thousands of ducks and geese. They may have added to the jollity of the place, and they most certainly added to the shit on pavement and grass. Right: These are not fallen leaves, they are goose turds in profusion. It is not even possible to walk on the grass without getting your shoes covered and probably up to your knees in places.

Left: What kind of geese are these anyway? Can you shoot them? If so, I think the park authorities are missing a trick not to have a few 'hides' built around the shores and sell off the wildfowling rights. It would kill several birds with one stone...make money and reduce the level of shit. Actually you wouldn't need hides, or shotguns for that matter. A big stick would do the job.

The walk around the lakes was relaxing and enjoyable. I nearly found myself whistling at one point. Many of the houses overlooking this prestigious area are large and elegant;  obviously multi-millionaires' homes.

There are a few consulate buildings as well. Of course, the only place to really let the side down is, as you might expect, the American consulate ( right ). It is surrounded by two impregnable and ugly perimeter fences, lots of bollards and heavily fortified guard posts at both ends. I expect there are battalions of ugly, shaven headed and aggressive sunglass wearing marines lurking in the flower beds. Sometimes I think the US policy of paranoid over-reaction to the 'terrst' threat only goes to provoke hostile reaction in return. If they are so frightened of being attacked why do they fly such a fucking big flag on the roof? Another red rag to the bull if you ask me.

Left: Noch ein view, this time over the smaller Binnenalster lake.

Ach so! A pleasant day's vondering and I returned to  my room, via the Hauptbahnhof and an efficient travel advice centre, to organise the last bit of my journey. I decided, reluctantly, to put off no longer my return to Blighty and go by train to the Hook of Holland and get the ferry from there to Harwich...just about where I started from on 25th January 2011. It is interesting to note that many years ago there were daily car ferries to UK operating out of both Hamburg and Bremerhaven. Now there are none. I suppose cheap airline fairs have reduced the need...but car drivers and freight still need to go by sea? Whatever, if they don't make money they disappear.
I made my first booking cock-up at this point when I bought a reasonably priced ferry ticket for £76, including the now compulsory cabin ( never used to be compulsory and I remember sleeping well enough on chairs or even flat out on the floor after suitable tranquillizers ) to Harwich by internet. Inadvertently I put in the wrong date..and confirmed it! Not thinking; must be getting too casual. I rang up the booking company and they said they could change it. Fine, but they charged me £25 for the two minute service! What rip-off! Money for old rope for somebody, but I suppose I was a little bit to blame.
I departed the next morning by train via Osnabruck, Amersfoort and Rotterdam. Nearly had another disaster because I wasn't aware that the train from Amersfoort stopped at Utrecht and split into two halves. Of course I was in the wrong half. The conductor did insist that an announcement had been made, but only in Dutch. Fortunately at Gouda, the next stop, I could rejoin the other, correct, half which was following five minutes behind. Don't ask. Arriving at Rotterdam I had five minutes to get from platform 15 to platform 1 to catch the ongoing connection to Hook of Holland. I was told it was not a problem. By now dragging two heavy suitcases and carrying a small rucksack, with a sea of passengers to barge through, it most definitely was. Not easy to sprint under these circumstances, but necessity prevailed and followed by the curses and yells from scattered and trampled people in my path and possibly a few seriously injured small children and dogs, I made the train with literally 10 seconds to spare! Things are conspiring against me in the dying stages of this journey. 
On the ferry now; HMS Brittania or similar. Good heavens, these ferries are nothing like I remember. They are luxurious, like cruise ships, and my cabin is immaculate and comfortable ( plus WiFi and TV ). I believe the footy match between England and Sweden is on, so will show a sense of patriotism and go down to watch it in the lounge bar amongst more English supporters than Swedes I suspect. 
Homeward bound and, unless the ship hits an iceberg, I will be back in Blighty tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


10th - 13th June 2012

The little mermaid and friend.
Onwards and downwards to Copenhagen. I went by ship; the DFDS Pearl Seaways ( Danish ship ) which left at 1645hrs and arrived in Copenhagen at 0945hrs the next morning. Left: The view back towards the city from the ship just before we set sail. Opera House centre. It is a big ship with eleven passenger decks, not including the viewing areas and bars on the roof ( whatever the nautical term for that is ).

Right: My 'basha'. It was actually very comfortable, luxurious even and, by any standards, comparatively good value for money. I had a 'double' cabin with a sea view on the 10th deck, very comfortable bed, a bowl of fresh fruit, complimentary chocolates, TV which worked, excellent shower, plus magnificent breakfast included and all for £204. OK, may sound a bit pricey but considering that's not much more than you might pay for a basic bed in a hostel in Oslo, good by comparison. The breakfast alone in Oslo would have been at least £30!

Left: Fellow passengers relaxing with a drink on the rear deck and we hadn't even gone anywhere at this stage. The initial route took us south down the scenic and at times very narrow Oslofjord. When the Germans invaded Norway from this direction in April 1940 they must have done a lot of navigational pre-planning. Our ship had to negotiate many marker buoys to avoid rocks. I presume the Norwegians moved these about a bit to foil the German ships; but obviously not enough.

There were several bars and restaurants of varying style, and price, on board. Right: One of the dining rooms. There was a small casino and, I believe, some sort of musical entertainment in a far off lounge, neither of which I patronised. Maybe it was Justin Beiber performing, although I didn't hear any screaming demented teenage girls. I think this Beiber character would, in my opinion, be at his best when walking the plank or being 'keel hauled'.
On disembarking there was a convenient and free shuttle bus service to the city centre. Once dropped off there of course I had no idea of where I was, relatively speaking. Sure, I had a tourist street map, but was still rather disorientated. I could only remember from a distant past visit the Tivoli Gardens and they were at the other end of the centre. I walked off towing two ( I seem to have gathered possessions ) suitcases over uncomfortably cobbled streets. I had selected, but not booked, a small hotel at random from some rather shoddy guide book ( not nearly up to Lonely Planet standard ) but hadn't a clue where the street was. After wandering aimlessly and dragging two reluctant bags for twenty minutes I realised I was in a part of the city with many grand buildings but utterly devoid of any shops or cafes, or pedestrians to ask the way for that matter. Eventually I stumbled upon a street with a cafe and people in it. After a coffee refuel I was told where to find a taxi. I naively assumed ( I really should know better by now ) that the genial Danish driver would look after me. He knew the hostelry to which I wanted to go. We spent the next 25 minutes getting there of which 20 were spent static due to traffic jams and road works. I started to watch the goddamn meter clicking up like a football rattle. I mentioned that this was looking rather expensive for going nowhere. His reaction to this adverse comment was almost hostile and, of course, one is entirely helpless in this situation ( with my bags in his boot ). He then helpfully said that most of the hotels were completely booked up and if this one was he knew a few more to try. I had visions of being driven endlessly around Copenhagen, a hostage to this arsehole, and clocking up an astronomic fare which would secure his and his extended family's financial future. By the grace of whatever Gods, the hotel had a spare room, for one night only. I would have waved off the bloody taxi anyway as the bill had reached the equivalent of £22 and still clicking up! We had gone about half a mile in total. I could have walked it. This, once again, served to remind me that most taxi drivers are bandits out to completely rip-off tourists. I do not appreciate paying a taxi to sit still. I think I am becoming somewhat paranoid about taxis, and with good reason I hasten to add. I would like to teach the bastards a lesson, but haven't yet worked out how to do it without using violence.

It was while I was getting the much needed caffeine infusion that I noticed this sign on the street outside ( left ). I'm not sure what the implication is here. Is it literal or metaphorical? Have the Danes had some unfortunate experiences with fashion shows?

Once the accommodation issue was, temporarily, solved I went walkabout. Copenhagen is not particularly big and for the most part easily walkable. Off down various cobbled streets, and there did seem to be a lot of people around. I was heading initially to the tourist info centre near the railway station to ask about a hotel for tomorrow night. Right: The Town Hall. Threatening rain clouds approaching.

Left: Statue nearby. It never did rain, surprisingly. Indeed the sun came out later.

Right: Rather impressive bubbles being 'blown' by these two gents outside the Town Hall.
My enquiries at the tourist info office were not very fruitful. The lady there told me that Copenhagen hotels were completely booked up! Bollocks, I thought. I went around several, some dodgy looking, establishments near to the railway station and yes, they were all fully booked. I decided to postpone this problem. This is the first place I have arrived at that has given me accommodation problems. I believe an influx of cruise ships was to blame.

So, on to the famous Tivoli Gardens which are adjacent to the station. This is the place I remembered fondly, if hazily, from 29 years ago. The gardens consist of an amusement park, a main stage for music and acts, subsidiary stages, many restaurants, a sort of Disney theme area and, of course, ponds and gardens. It hasn't changed much, apart from the prices.

Right: The first ( and only while I was there ) act on the stage was this children's' choir which sang jaunty songs. They were quite endearing, I suppose. At least it wasn't Justin Beiber.
It was Monday, and I was told Mondays are quiet days at Tivoli Gardens.

Left: The pirates' ship in the theme park.

Some of the rides in the amusement park were interesting. Right: This thing lifted them up and dropped them from the top and then bounced like a hydraulic bungee jump.

Left: The 'aeroplane' on the arm of a vertically rotating pylon did amazing aerobatics in all planes and ended by looping-the-loop at incredible speed. Rather like being in a fast three dimensional spin-drier I think. It must have been a most thoroughly vomit inducing ride.

Right: This machine elevated the punters to a great height while spinning them out to the horizontal.

Right: The roller-coaster in the inverted position.
The most breathtaking thing about these rides was the price. To pay for the main rides individually cost about £10 a go. You could buy a ticket to cover them all for about £40.
There were lots of the old fashioned fairground stalls with 'bat the rats', 'shooting galleries' and 'horse racing' etc. All very nostalgic ( and comparatively cheap ). Tons of candy floss, toffee apples and hot dogs were being consumed, with much beer and fizzy drinks drunk. All good ammunition to throw up with.

Walking back past the Town Hall I watched, briefly, this trio of 'Andean style' musicians. They seem to be related to those performing in Oslo if the feathered outfits are anything to go by. Many eagles must be grounded and shivering in the mountains down the west coast of South America.

Left: I passed this emporium; the oldest glove factory in the world. I didn't realise there were such things as glove factories. Must be a Nordic/Scandinavian thing or perhaps a Copenhagen speciality. Brussels makes chocolates. Copenhagen makes gloves.
Of course Copenhagen is quite famous for it's 'Little Mermaid' which sits on a rock near the embankment of the harbour ( picture featured at the top ) and which, a few years ago, had it's head removed by vandals. Not sure if they recovered the original or had to make a new one. It is still possible to step over to it without getting your feet wet and without some officious guard telling you that you can't.

There are several other mermaids around the place, such as this rather well proportioned one ( right ). Copenhagen must have a mermaid factory as well. I didn't see a mermaid wearing gloves.

Left: ....and this one; the Genetically Modified Mermaid. They are all located in the harbour area.

There is a pleasant walk down the waterside back from the harbour to the centre. Amongst many old and pleasant buildings you pass this ( right ), the Gefion fountain; Copenhagen's most spectacular fountain...the blurb says. It's a fiercesome lady riding a chariot whipping four buffalo which are pulling her.

Left: Plus the Amalienborg, the Royal Palace. Its not easy to make out which bit is the actual palace because there are four identical buildings such as this one forming a square. I presumed it was this one because it had a flag on top and there were more guards outside it.

The guards ( right ) look a bit Ruritanian and attracted a bit of possibly unwelcome attention from some passers-by. This one had just been given a kiss by the lady with the pink scarf. Doesn't she look pleased.

Left: Walking on past the Nyhavn ( old port ) is a street lined with bars and restaurants which seemed to be doing roaring trade on this sunny(ish) day. By the way, a feature of Denmark is that the drinks here are less than half the price of those in Norway and Sweden. It is financially possible here for Brits to consume enough beer to get intoxicated if they so desire.

Right: Of course this street featured at least one Oirish bear, and it is also a regular feature of this blog to show at least one from every port of call. Looking back, the only country that I recall which resolutely holds out against the omnipresent Irish drinking emporia is India. Bars in India are crap to non-existent anyway. I think I saw one in Rangoon, but not sure.

Carrying on up the street called Stroget, advertised that at 1103 metres long it is the world's longest pedestrian shopping street, one passes a few of those ( frankly rather passé and tedious ) human statues. Although this one ( left ) showed a bit more imagination than most. 'The Invisible Man'. Not a good photo because you can't see the hat, but it really did give the appearance of an invisible face. It cost me a 1000 Mongolian Tugrik ( 2p at last estimate ) to be allowed to take the photo.

Right: Unlike this human statue, of the reclining variety, which while convincing and maintaining the pose successfully, did not seem to react to any stimulation, either financial or physical.
I ended up back at the information centre and was told that they had discovered one hotel room on offer for 1900 Krone ( about £230! ). I said 'wait out' and went to the railway station with the intention of going somewhere else. The Danish railway ticket office system is the most inefficient I have yet experienced. There were only four of the twelve desks 'manned', lots of customers, and each ticket buyer was taking about half an hour to get a ticket, or whatever, involving much heavy discussion. What the hell were they discussing? I stood irritably in a queue for one and a half hours to get the last train to Hamburg, and the train had left before I got to the front! My patience with Copenhagen's tourist scene was running a bit thin. All lost, I went back to the info centre which was due to close in 5 minutes. The monstrously expensive room had been taken ( thankfully as it turned out ) so zilch available . Back to my original hotel in a foul mood to collect my luggage and expecting to spend the night in a shop doorway ( and I've done that before ). I was then told that they had a 'hostel' room for K150! ( £17 ). I hadn't asked about hostel rooms before, they said. Problem solved, and at a good price. I shared a room with two others and woke up in the morning. This is not a given outcome considering my snoring and the murderous intentions it can engender in others.
Anyway, leaving Copenhagen......onwards onwards

Sunday, 10 June 2012


29th May - 1st June 2012

Viooowe erv Urslur frurm oop the ski-jurmp
Hellerwe frurm Urslur. Very jolly place from what I have seen, even if you need to be a multi-billionaire to make the best of it. Arrived late evening at the Central Station and got a taxi to a hostel ( can't afford hotels here ) which took about 20 mins driving and cost the normal Norwegian taxi price equivalent of an air ticket to the Bahamas. I later discovered that I could have walked it in 5 minutes.

Left: The Royal Palace. Nice weather and did a bit of wandering the next day. The main street through central Oslo is Karl Johans Gate and leads from the railway station up to the Royal Palace, the home of King Harald and Queen Sonja. Looks like they've got the builders in doing the roof...unless it is meant to look like this.

Karl Johans Gate is a lively street with lots of bars, restaurants, posh shops and a rash of those 'human statues' which spring temporarily to life when you feed them a left-over ruble or yuan ( the banks won't change foreign coins of course ). Right: There was also this miserable looking female 'clown' who was not terribly impressed when I offered her my last remaining Peruvian nuevo sol. I later saw that the face is a mask and shared between several 'clowns'.

Left: A view up the northern part of Karl Johans Gate towards the Palace.

Left: The grand statue outside the Palace, of whom it didn't say as far as I could see. Anyone knur?

Right: On the way back I met a band and soldiers marching up to the Palace, so I did a U-turn and followed them. This was to be the Changing of the Guard. The Norwegian Royal Guard wear these extraordinary looking bowler hats with black horses' tails hanging over the front. Must be somewhat irritating when the breeze blows it into your face. They are actually quite smart ( only quite, I hasten to add ). However, if you really want to see some spectacular drill ( on ice, would you believe ), go to 'HMKG 04 Norwegian Military Tattoo' on Youtube. Anyway this lot were not up to that standard.
They provided a reasonably amusing spectacle and attracted a crowd. Interestingly there were no barriers or police telling passers-by or spectators where they could go, or stand. You just had to show good manners and not get in the way, and people duly obliged. At some point a lady nonchalantly pushed her pram and led her other child across the parade area. The authorities here are remarkably relaxed about 'access' to these sort of occasions despite that lunatic blowing up their Parliament and massacring many children on the island north of Oslo last summer. I am impressed by that willingness, indeed determination, to continue unfazed and not impose draconian security measures after that horror-attack as would undoubtedly be the case in UK or America where the public would be strip-searched before being kept behind barriers 2 kilometres away. In America the equivalent place would, by now, be bristling with snipers, anti-aircraft batteries, hovering attack-helicopters and squads of rude and ruthless heavily armed guards.

The only people clearing the way for the band and guard were these five mounted police ( left ) who were well mannered and smiling. Their main purpose was to stop motorists from entering Karl Johans Gate at the wrong moment and running into the band.

Right: The guard was duly changed with good drill and minimum fuss. Each sentry box around the Palace was marched up to and the change-over smartly effected. They must get used to that horses' tail blowing into their faces because it did and they never flinched. It would drive me mad. I suppose it keeps the flys off.

Left: A guard in his box.
After the change-over the police mounted escort, band playing jolly tunes and old guard duly marched back down the street. It was a fun occasion and professionally carried out ( if not quite up to our Brigade of Guards standard of drill and turn-out ).
Right: The Norwegian parliament building, the Storting as its called, or National Assembly, or whatever, off Karl Johans Gate. This was where the nutter planted his car bomb ( ANFO ) last summer.

Left: A curious 'work of art' nearby

Right: The cathedral; again on Karl Johans Gate.

That afternoon, by quite an amazing coincidence, in the middle of a crowd near the railway station, I bumped into the Californian Vikings who were staying with a relative outside the city. They had come into town to do some shopping ( they must be loaded ). They told me that their 'host', a retired builder I think, has, since retiring 15 years ago, refused ever to come into Oslo because he doesn't like the fact that the city has become home to so many ethnic minorities. I must admit, there was quite a predominance of 'foreign' looking types of various hue and ethnicity hanging about the streets including many of what I took to be Romanian/Albanian beggar women who spend their days sitting on the ground on street corners and under street lamps, often with babies, holding out begging bowls. They seem to be kept clear of the smarter areas.

Left: A scene repeated in much of the street where I was staying. There were also some very evil looking men around who gave the impression of 'organising' these beggars. I suspect they are not of enormous benefit to the Norwegian economy or social scene. I was subsequently told that there is an ongoing and contentious political issue involving the many immigrants, a large proportion of whom are Romanian, coming into the city to beg and engage in other nefarious activities. Apparently they live rough in the parks. Reminds me of Dublin. They must make a lot of money begging to be able to exist in this city!

Has anyone heard of a someone called Justin Beiber? I hadn't until I wandered into the square by the railway station. Hundreds of teenage girls were gathered around a stage. Occasionally they would scream and rush off, only to come screaming back later. The Viking girls told me that this Justin Beiber is a current 'heart-throb' teenage pop star and was visiting Oslo. He was supposedly going to do some singing but in the meantime was popping up, or not, in various places up and down the city centre which caused these wild stampedes of squealing girls to go looking for him. The police were hopelessly trying to control them. Extraordinary and quite funny to watch it all as I sipped my small ( but astonishingly expensive ) beer at a nearby cafe. I have no idea when, where or even if Master Beiber ever showed up.
I arranged to meet up with the Viking girls at a cafe up near the Holmenkollen ski-jump for tea at 4.30pm. This eatery ( the Frognersteren Cafe ), according to the Viking mother, the ex-US Navy parachute rigger, who had been there several times before, is a renowned place for nosh, especially cakes and apple pie. I would go up there on the metro, the T-Bane, as it is the last stop on line 1 and I might be able to get up the notorious Holmenkollen ski-jump as well, i.e. killing four birds with one stone.

I underestimated the time it would take. The T-Bane stops at about a hundred stations between the centre and the other end, so I made it to the cafe late and no time to do ( see ) the ski-jump. I resisted the cakes ( I had promised myself to go on a diet after the Hurdigurdi cruise ) and took out a bank loan to buy another small beer. Right: The Californian Vikings; Alexandra, Anastasia ( the ex-US Navy rigger and model ) and Katrina after they had devoured their apple pie.

Left: I made it to the Holmenkollen ski-jump the next morning. It is, I think, the biggest ski-jump in the world. The old one was completely rebuilt in this modernistic style a few years ago.
There is also a 'skiing' museum here. It has some interesting old skis including a pair from 600AD. I learnt all about the differences between Nordic, Telemark and Alpine skiing, plus lots about cross-country skiing and ski jumping. There is also a whole gallery which features the late King Haaken V11 ( 1872 - 1957 ) and his Queen Maud. They were keen skiers and very popular with the public.

Right: Looking back up. I don't know what, if anything, would persuade me to ski down this. I have no ambition to emulate Eddy the Eagle. Anyway, there was 'noe snoe'.
They also had a 'simulator' which promised 'space- age technology to create a unique and realistic feeling' doing the ski jump and a downhill alpine race. I couldn't resist. It lasted five minutes and successfully created for me a very realistic feeling of being ill. I only just escaped without throwing up.
I had bought a 2 day 'Oslo Pass' which for 395 Krone ( £42 ) gives access to all city transport and most museums ( but not the ski simulator vomitorium ). I was determined to make good use of it and duly set off to visit some of the many museums. Several of the nautical ones ( Norway has an impressive nautical history ) are on Bygdoy on the other side of the bay. I duly took the 20 minute ferry to get there.

First to visit the Viking Ship museum which, unsurprisingly, exhibited three original Viking ships. They are all from about 800AD.
Left: The Oseburg ship which was a queen's barge for ceremonial occasions and in which she was buried. Powered by 30 rowers and/or a sail.

Right: Another, the Gokstad ship, was a sea going vessel of 32 oar-power plus sail. This one was again used as a burial ship for some high ranking Viking chief. The third vessel was in much worse condition and featured a wooden burial chamber on board.
They should have had them at the Queen's Jubilee Thames Pageant to remind us of a bit of good old-fashioned Viking raping and pillaging.
Many artefacts, tools, preserved fabrics, ceremonial sledges, wagons and other Viking impedimenta was also on display. Not bad.

Left: Norwegian sailors outside the Norwegian Maritime museum which features largely the expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, amongst several others. I hadn't realised that in 1895 Nansen deliberately took his ship, the specially constructed and reinforced Fram, into the Arctic pack-ice deliberately to become ice-bound for 6 years to prove the drift of Arctic ice and thereby to reach the North Pole. He, his crew and the ship, survived. I don't think he quite reached the Pole. What a way to spend 6 years of your life!
The entire ship, the Fram, is preserved intact and on display as the centre-piece. You can wander around inside it. No decent photos because it was rather dark inside. The various expeditions these brave explorers/scientists undertook are well photographed and documented and provide a fascinating history of mainly Arctic and Antarctic exploration. The Amundsen South Pole expedition is well photographed and displayed and includes quite a lot of Scott's stuff as well. A fascinating museum especially if you are interested in Arctic/Antarctic matters.

Then to the Kon-Tiki museum. Left: The original Kon-Tiki raft built from balsa wood and Thor Heyerdahl's conveyance to prove it was possible to sail and use ocean currents to go west from South America to the Polynesian Islands, which he did in 1947.

Right: Ra 2. Mr Heyerdahl also built two more boats, Ra and Ra 2, out of papyrus reeds to prove it was possible in early days to sail these basic craft using prevailing wind and currents to go west from Africa across the Atlantic. The first attempt in Ra failed because the reed boat disintegrated. The second, Ra 2, succeeded in reaching Barbados.
The Ra boats looked rather the same as the ones I travelled on at Lake Titicaca.

Left: A statue down on the quayside featuring a family of man, woman, boy and girl, all naked. What is the fascination of displaying naked humans in public spaces, especially in this part of the world where the last thing you want to be, out in the open air, is naked! Someone should give them some warm clothing.

Right: The opera house, near the central station, is a curious construction. It is possible to walk from ground level to the top of it all on the sloping roof.
Quite an impressive building. Can't speak for the actual operatic performances.

Left: As viewed from the opera house, a 'thing', a large 'work of art' floating in the harbour. It sparkled. Maybe it is supposed to represent a collapsing oil rig? Answers on a post-card please.

The following day I visited the Akershus Castle ( right ) overlooking the harbour. It dates from 1300 and contains state-rooms used by the Norge Government for official functions and banquets. It must also do smart weddings because preparations were being made for one later that afternoon.

Down in the dungeons is the Royal Mausoleum ( left ). The big white one contains King Haaken V11 and the smaller green one, his wife Queen Maud. There are more at the other end containing older deceased royals.

Right: The main Banquet Hall. Rodent in centre of the table. I think the chap on duty said they can seat 150.
I seemed to be the only tourist wandering around inside this castle. I was aiming to maximise use of my Oslo Pass. Not doing too badly so far I think.

Left: Looking up from the walls of the castle to the north. That ski-jump certainly dominates the view with the cathedral to the right.
I then went on a tour of the Resistance Museum in the castle grounds. This was recommended to me. It features the story of the Norwegian resistance movement from 9th April 1940 when the Germans invaded to the end of the war. Reasonably interesting and featured quite good photos, documents, reconstructions of battles and acts of sabotage, as you might expect. It played original recorded speeches given by Churchill, King Haaken V11 ( in exile in London ) and Quisling ( the Norwegian Nazi traitor ). Curiously, and I later learnt that this was done deliberately, the displays don't mention any of the Norwegian resistance heroes by name nor the stories of their gallant deeds. I was told that they didn't want to single out any particular people. Neither do they mention what happened to Mr Quisling. As it happened, he was tried after the war ended and shot just outside where the museum now stands. I would be surprised they didn't torture him beforehand. Educational.

Right: I met these two castle guards marching out. They appear not to have right arms. One presumes this is all part of the Norwegian military policy of job equality for the handicapped ( sorry, physically challenged ).

There were lots of bands playing around town, and very jolly the music was too. Left: This lot in the white jackets were mixed ( quite senior looking ) men and women. They all wore dozens of medals on their chests. I didn't find out what they had done to deserve them. There are lots of tall bollards on the pavements in this part of the city as there were just out of sight in front of the chap with the banner. I watched as they marched off, toot toot oompah oompah, and the front ranks negotiated the bollards successfully, unfortunately concealing them from those towards the rear playing tubas and french horns or similar, who then fell over them bringing down a selection of other 'instruments'. It was like the Foinavon fence in the Grand National all over again. The crashing, banging, yelling and occasional peep was impressive to behold. How I laughed! I nearly wet myself.

Of course there are the mandatory Oirish bears. Probably lots of them. In this one ( right ) I was informed that they were preparing to perform an Irish 'jamming session' whatever the heck that is. I didn't stay to find out.

Left: And as for these performers, I couldn't quite work out where they came from. They had the flutes and drums of the Andes style bands and enough feathered decoration about them to embarrass a flock of randy show-off peacocks. Wherever it was that they come from there is now probably a severe shortage of large birds!

Right: A tiger in front of the central railway station. It was often being 'ridden' by children and it's tail was a popular place to sit.
So, that was my visit to Oslo in a Nutshell. A decent enough city and likeable folk apart perhaps from the evil looking beggars and their gangs, but not the sort of place you can afford to stay too long.

I have just returned from my TSDM ( not part of my planned journey ). If anyone is remotely interested this pic is a clue of where I was. If you've been there you'll recognise it.

Onwards again. Another boat trip coming up I fear.
Must dash.