Somewhere between Karlstad and Oslo. Monday, August 10th.
I shall try and get this letter written before we get to the Norwegian border.
I haven’t had a minute to write since I left Frankfurt, and there is such a lot to tell as I traveled first to Denmark, then Sweden and now Norway.
I decided to leave Stockholm for Oslo yesterday, and having become very tired of train travelling, I decided to try hitchhiking for a change. I can see you shaking your head from here.
I soon discovered that this is the worst possible country for the experiment, but not for the reasons that you might imagine.
The Swedes are very third-party insurance conscious, and I found that most of them drive around strapped into their seat with safety belts!!. – So they don’t really have the right mentality for picking up hikers.
My companion was a pleasant young medical student from Tennessee. We set off at about 11 o’clock from Stockholm to see how far we could get, finally arriving as far as Karlstad at 10 PM!
We had had about eight different lifts, each lasting about 10 miles on average! The waits in between time were usually longer than the lifts, and today my arm is aching from waving it at the blighters!
We were able to stop at the local youth hostel overnight, but the American boy had to go back this morning, so I then proceeded by train, which, by now, I was ready to do so.
We travelled through some very attractive country yesterday and the weather was very pleasant as well, so altogether, the experiment turned out OK, and at least it was one way of getting to know some of the local people, that is when they could speak English!
Much of Sweden is fairly flat except up north, but the countryside has its own charm.
It is dotted with picturesque little lakes and many pine forests, with patches of farmland in between.
Most of the houses and buildings are old pine, built in log cabin style, and painted a dull reddish brown colour, with windowsills and doorways etched in white.
The reddish buildings blending with the rich green forests, the yellows of the harvest fields and the very blue skies altogether make quite a picture.
This makes the landscape more interesting than Denmark, practically every inch of which is under cultivation, and which for the most part, is very flat.
I was about to fill in the details of my travels since last Monday when I left Frankfurt, but I have just noticed that this is the last Swedish town, before we cross the border, so I shall mail it and write more from Oslo.
In haste. All continues to go well. Much love
Thos. Cook’s Tourist office, Oslo. 12th of August 1959
Well, here I am on my second day in Oslo, and it is pouring cats and dogs outside, so I am taking shelter in Thos. Cook’s office where I can now start writing something of my meanderings around Norway’s capital city.
Luckily I saw most of the interesting things I wanted to see yesterday while the weather was fine.
The train trip from Karlstad was a pleasant one. Once settled I could relax and take in the scenery we were passing through. It was really very lovely –even more pine forests and lakes than the country-side before Karlstad.
It also gave me a chance to recover from the marathon event the day before, and prepare myself to explore my next Scandinavian country. Soon I was struggling my way through a conversation with two very nice Swedish women who could not speak English, but who nevertheless seemed to enjoy the exchange.
I find that it is always easier to interact when there are children around. When I gave a couple of Italian coins to their two little girls, the children promptly jumped to their feet, took my hand and curtsied. This is apparently their way of saying thank you — it was really delightful!
Thos. Cook’s has now closed so I have moved into the lounge of a rather classy hotel nearby to continue this epistle.
Despite the rain, the city has a good feel about it – relaxed and friendly and quite unpretentious. There is not a lot of glamour about the Scandinavian cities, though I would say a little more in Stockholm than here or Copenhagen.
Yesterday, I set out with my customary map & guidebook and made for the centre of the city. It is situated near the harbour’s edge with lots of outdoor cafes sporting bright umbrellas and trellises. I found that the rather plain cathedral was worth ignoring — perhaps the result of being a rather secular society, I doubt if it gets used very much anyhow! (It is so easy to make these judgments when one is just passing through).
The Oslo Town Hall, however, more than makes up for what the church lacked architecturally. It is the showpiece of the city, and although its architecture is very modern, it somehow has a rather imperial feel about it.
They began building it in 1934 – the year I was born, but work stopped when the Germans invaded in 1940, and was not completed until 1950. It has two very sturdy square towers, appearing to guard the main part of the building from either side. One tower has a carillon, which plays every hour, night and day, and on the other side is an enormous astronomical clock.
While the outside seems a little ponderous in its dark red brick, the interior was quite delightful. As well as the usual municipal halls and offices, there are fine galleries and other cultural areas.
The best of Norwegian handiwork and modern art decorate the walls with symbolic murals and bright colours which were not the least bit too futuristic or difficult to understand.
I am still finding some modern art quite challenging!
By now it was lunchtime, and I stopped at what turned out to be a Wimpy bar. These are a chain of hamburger shops which have already started popping up all over London and apparently abroad as well.
There is a uniform menu regardless of whatever country you happen to be in, the service is very quick, and is apparently what is coming to be known as the fast food phenomena. It originates in the United States. I am sure the Italians would not approve, and I hope we won’t be seeing one there any time soon!
Next, I take a little ferry ride across to the promontory to the Kon Tiki museum.
There you can find the famous raft which the explorer Thor Heyerdahl built.
In 1947 he set out in it to cross the Pacific ocean from South America to Polynesia to demonstrate the possibility of achieving this in a vessel made of materials and technology that was all that would have been available in mediaeval times; the original raft was made of enormous balsa wooden logs strapped together with rope.
It is an excellent display, with lots of interesting photographs and other relevant artifacts. There is even an underneath room with a glass encased section displaying the bottom of the raft, with lots of lifelike models of sharks etc swimming about underneath.
If Matthew Flinders’ boat still exists, I would love to see it set up the same way.
There were also Viking ships to see. Long black boats not as big as I would have imagined, but very gracefully designed and well-preserved considering the wood is at least 1000 years old. They are slender and flexible yet strong enough to survive ocean journeys and give the Vikings control of the waterways for centuries during the Middle Ages.
There is also a beautiful sailing ship anchored alongside the Town Hall, which was used in the film The Windjammer, much of which was apparently shot in this area.
My next visit was to the Folks museum, a large open-air Museum full of life-size old farmhouses and buildings reassembled from different parts of the country and different centuries, and each of these was attended by people proudly wearing the corresponding costumes of each area.
This was all quite novel and instructive and really entertaining.
Some of the little old farmhouses were built so low that it was not possible to stand upright in parts of them.
This type of museum is quite the thing in Scandinavia. There is another very good one called Skansen at Stockholm, which occupies several acres of land.
I was lucky to be shown over that one by a rather quirky elderly American lady who has lived in Stockholm for many years and who goes to the park every day.
I was wondering if she would expect a guide’s fee, but she shamed me by insisting on paying my train fare back into town, and asking me if I would send her a postcard from Australia.
My last excursion for the day provided a wonderful finale to what had already been a very interesting experience. It was the famous Frogner Park, renowned for its wonderful sculptures, the largest group of sculptures in the world, they say.
The park was originally the huge grounds of Frogner Manor, but is now owned publicly and is always open and with no fee.
The whole complex is the life’s work of an amazing sculptor, Gustav Vigeland, who worked at it from 1903 until his death in 1943.
The statues are all bigger than life size, representing very healthy looking everyday people, nude like most Scandinavian sculpture.
They depict people of all ages, shapes and sizes doing everyday things, dancing, running, wrestling, holding hands or hugging and are wonderfully alive and expressive.
There are a series of them throughout the park individually representing various stages and emotions of human life, all very vital and showing a keen understanding of humanity.
One enters through an impressive gateway, strolling on down an avenue, then crossing over a bridge to a magnificent bronze fountain, encircled by individual bronze figures in relief.
A very broad mosaic pavement made of black and white granite tiles surrounds this.
From there it’s on to the Monolith, with all figures reaching together towards the heavens.
The final sculptural creation is called ‘the Whole of Life’ — a symbol of eternity, and expresses the
main theme of the whole park — humanity’s journey through from the cradle to the grave.
A verbal description doesn’t really do justice to the experience of simply seeing and being there. I was there between about seven and nine o’clock.
The black statues stood out powerfully in silhouette with the setting sun to highlight them. It was still light enough to take photos as it doesn’t get dark here in summer till about 10 o’clock, so I’m hoping that my pictures will turn out well.
If they don’t, I will still carry strong memories with me for a long time!
One other thing that Norway is well known for that I forgot to mention is the Nobel Peace prize, which is awarded annually. As you know, it is an international award. I discovered that it is the Norwegian parliament that appoints a committee, who then makes the selection. It is presented at the University of Oslo, which is situated near the City Hall, with the Royal family and the Prime Minister and many other dignitaries present from all over.
It has been a tradition since the late 1800s and was the initiative of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist, inventor and armaments manufacturer, and was the first of its kind in the world.
There is bound to be an interesting story behind what prompted an arms maker to create a peace prize.
I have been busy today organising the last part of my Scandinavian adventure, and I am very excited about it. I will be leaving Oslo in the morning and heading for the magnificent fjord country towards the other side of Norway near the western coast. I expect to arrive at the port town of Bergen on Saturday, and travel by boat to Newcastle on Monday morning, arriving back in London on Monday night.
P. S. Daddy, I was so happy to find a letter from you waiting for me at Malmo when I stopped by there. I was not so happy to hear how difficult business was for you at the moment. All of that pressure coming from Chicago at the same time for both the motor and machinery agencies would be hard to deal with.
At least your lovely horses are doing their best for you, especially Cabao who, Mummy told me, has just given you a win at the Wagga Cup.
It doesn’t feel fair that you are working so hard at your stage of life while I am having all of these adventures. I know that you like to travel too. I can remember ages ago when you drove all the way up to Queensland and discovered Surfers Paradise when it was no more than a hotel and a bird life sanctuary.
My excuse is that I am considerably extending my education as I go, and happily in my own way, and in my own time. It is a great way to do it!
It moved me to have you write that you don’t mind how soon I come home.
Keep well and happy. Much love to you —
Continuing the account of the Scandinavian adventure from London.
I realise that my exact itinerary over the last month must still be a bit of a mystery to you, so I will recap and try to fill in some of the gaps, starting from when I moved on from Germersheim in Germany.
As you know, I’d diverted to Paris for a couple of days, and then went north to Frankfurt from there.
It was a good place to stop for a few days and get my breath back. I stayed at an excellent youth hostel and I was happy to relax there, keeping sightseeing to a minimum. It is not a very touristy place, though it is certainly a very wealthy one.
There are lots of bright modern buildings all built since the war. It did have an Old town, which was once the biggest in Central Europe, but it was destroyed by the Allied air forces.
It does have a very fine cathedral situated near the river which was only partially damaged, and is now being reconstructed.
I read that Frankfurt was once the centre of the Holy Roman Empire, and it was in this cathedral that a succession of emperors was crowned.
I also looked over the poet Goethe’s original home, – he is greatly revered in Europe just as Shakespeare is in the English speaking world – and then strolled down the Goethestrasse which is rated as one of the most glamorous shopping centres in Europe. And the boutiques certainly were really beautiful. I would have loved to go on a spending spree!
The weekend that I was there, there was a fair on. It was much like our Show day but without the exhibits. It was fun wandering through the bustling, noisy crowds watching the Germans let their hair down. The beer halls are quite a feature of life here too. They are usually large, open and very family friendly.
On 3rd August I took the train on to Hamburg and stayed in a hostel overlooking the busiest part of the harbour with noisy cranes swinging among the ships and docks all through the night. It is an enormous, bustling port city, a good example of the miraculous German revival since 1946 and it deserved much more attention, but I only had a couple of hours in the morning to look about before catching the train to Copenhagen.
This was another day long trip. The highlight of this journey was when the train was taken aboard a ferry for about 45 minutes to enable it to cross a peninsular into Denmark!
During this time we didn’t have to stay in the train, so went up on to the deck to watch from there. To fit on the ferry, the train had to be a little shorter than usual and
it was possible to look through to the driver’s compartment and watch him make the necessary mechanical adjustments to get the train on and off the ferry.
The land all the way up from Frankfurt was fairly flat agricultural land — much like good Australian wheat country, though missing the gum trees, and, when crossing Denmark, it was still even flatter and mainly agricultural, practically every square inch being under cultivation.
The country of Denmark is made up of many islands connected by ferries and bridges.
Copenhagen is its principal city situated on an island to southeast of the country.
I arrived there in the evening, and was unlucky to strike an awful students hostel, but was back in good humour as soon as I started wandering around the next morning.
The city has a delightful atmosphere and one of the first things I recognised was the beautiful bronze statue of the Little Mermaid gazing across the water.
I am sure that you will recognise Hans Christian Andersen’s story, Leonie!
It is still the original statue, though it has had to be mended several times over many years.
I strolled around the town square and inspected the Round Tower, which was built in the 17th century for the king at the time who was interested in astronomy, and is now used as a viewing tower.
It looks very ordinary on the outside but the interior is in fact a very wide spiraling ramp that curls all the way up to the top, and is very light and airy and painted white.
From the top there is a great view of the city. The green oxidized copper roofs of important buildings stand out, including the cathedral — the Church of our Lady — and also the Church of the Saviour.
The Royal palace is very impressive and has a solid no-nonsense simple design.
I was there in time to see the changing of the guard. They looked very spectacular with their navy bearskin caps, and blue trousers.
They march every day at 11.30 from Rosenberg Palace all the way to the Amalienborg Palace, and of course, I trotted a little way along the route beside them.
Next came the National Gallery, close by, which I really enjoyed.
Its exhibits cover 700 years of Western art and history, from the Renaissance painters of the 13th century in Italy to the famous Danish artists of the 20th century.
After that, I was lucky to be told that I shouldn’t miss the Carlsberg Glyptotek, which turned out to be a gallery, not a brewery! — I think I was initially misled by not understanding what the name meant.
It was in fact, a delightful little museum and gallery built from a bequest of one Carl Jacobson in 18882. He was the founder of the Brewery and the creator of the famous Carlsberg beer.
The collection contains many treasures – sculptures from the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean, principally from Rome and Greece and also many of Rodin’s fine sculptures including the famous ‘Thinker’ busy sitting there on a stone – thinking!
As well is that, there was a wonderful collection of the Impressionists and post impressionists — so many well-known names — Renoir’s, and the wonderful little bronze ballerina by Degas.
You would have loved it Janet!
A Danish girl, Lillian Jensen Beck, then took me to Ellsinore by ferry.
It is an old mediaeval merchant town, still well preserved, standing on the narrowest point of a strait between Denmark and Sweden, which are only 4 km apart just there.
The surprise was Kronenberg Castle, a rather grim looking edifice consisting of a castle built on top of an ancient fort. This turned out to be the famous castle where Shakespeare placed his story of Hamlet King of Denmark!
Ellsinore itself was once a famous port, which owed its reputation and wealth from extracting tolls from the many ships from other countries that traded there.
Finally, towards the end of the day I went to the famous Tivoli Gardens which were just a walk away from City Hall. I was told that the best time to go was in the evening.
It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
It is truly world-class amusement park, set in beautiful gardens, and probably the oldest theme park in the world. As It was still very light until quite late I was happy to stay on there for hours.
There were lots of exciting rides for kids, plenty of music and outdoor theatre and lots of people dancing and just milling around. There were some amazing acrobatic displays, which made me hold my breath to watch.
I had a great evening and it left me with a very good feeling about Copenhagen and the friendly Danish people that I encountered there.
It had been a big day, and as you can imagine, I slept very well that night, and just as well because there was more travelling ahead of me the next day.
From there I went over by boat to Malmo in Sweden on the morning of the sixth, but I failed to meet up with Gittan, the Swedish girl that I had been friendly with in Perugia.
I recovered from my disappointment and continued on that afternoon after collecting my precious mail, and headed NW for Stockholm, Sweden’s capitol.
Again I was unlucky with the first hostel I stayed at, but my luck changed splendidly the next day.
I had found my best ever hostel – it was called Af Chapman. It is a fully rigged steel- constructed sailing ship, with three great masts, moored on an islet opposite the Old Town in the centre of Stockholm.
It was called after its owner who was a shipbuilder and Vice Admiral and had been built in Cumbria in England and was launched in 1858.
It had had a very interesting history and had travelling around Europe and Ireland and America and even Australia over many years.
It made its final voyage in 1934, the year that I was born, and had been used as a barracks during the Second World War.
It is now preserved by the Stockholm city Museum and is very well set up as a youth hostel.
It has 285 berths and is often booked out, so I was lucky to be able to stay there for two nights.
There was lots to see in Stockholm.
I visited The Drottningholm Palace, which is one of the best-preserved palaces.
Much of it is still used by the Royal family, and some of the grandest rooms are accessible to the public. I loved wandering through the splendid galleries and libraries full of priceless books. It is set on a little island with beautifully designed grounds,
I knew very little about Stockholm before arriving here, it is truly a very beautiful city spread out over 14 islands connected by bridges.
I began my exploration on a fine day and was captivated by the sight of the city centre reaching down to the water’s edge, with lots of colourful open-air cafes, and interesting side streets.
The City Hall is quite a splendid building, long and rectangular and very solid and important looking.
It has a tall tower at one end, which is topped with Three Crowns made of gold, which make up the Swedish coat of arms.
The building was erected in 1923 and was constructed of millions of red bricks. The design is modern, clean cut and simple — quite no-nonsense to my eyes — and all the more imposing because of it.
My guidebook describes the architecture as being ‘national romanticism’! I quite like that!
It was possible to explore the interior by going on a guided tour, which proved very worthwhile. Apart from the usual area of business, there were small galleries, theatres and other cultural venues. The one that topped the lot is the magnificent Golden Hall, which is completely lined with millions of gold mosaic tiles. — not the least bit no-nonsense!!
It was possible to ascend to the top of the tower and see a magnificent view of the city and port facilities beyond.
Behind the City Hall there was a delightful market with lots of flower stalls and produce.
Nearby on the water is an immense royal palace. Even though it is the official residence of the Royal family, a generous part of it is open to the general public.
They say it has 600 rooms, it was built in the 18th century in the baroque style, and, can you imagine, it boasts five museums, libraries and long galleries lined with portraits and other beautiful and rare artifacts, and even an armory and the Queen’s Silver throne room. It was all much too much to take in!
There was of course the customary changing of the Royal guard to watch there as well. I really enjoy the traditional spectacles, royal or religious, it doesn’t matter.
Nearby is the fine Royal National City Park, also the cathedral, which didn’t impress me as much, and I then wandered on to the Gamla Stan.
This is the old mediaeval town from the 13th century, and is amazingly well preserved.
– They also claim that theirs is the best of its kind in Europe!
It is really a delight to explore, so I don’t mind accepting their assessment, and I am not likely to get a chance to test any counter claims!
All of these places are within easy walking distance of one another including Skansen, the open-air museum, which is like the one I described earlier in Oslo.
My evening adventures included meeting up with some of the Australians from the Cook’s tour in Malmo. We shared a delicious meal of fresh salmon, and then went on together to a very pleasant concert. A Swedish lady whom I met on the train had recommended it to me.
The night before I left, I went to see a Swedish version of My Fair Lady — what a delight that was! — And then went to supper with Karl-Axel Karlin and his wife who have asked me to visit them at Varjo.
It is just as well that I had at least two days to begin to get to know a little about Stockholm.
I still needed to find time for the art galleries. I had heard that the National Gallery was the top one here by world standards, and I wasn’t disappointed.
It was just that, as usual, there wasn’t time to do it justice.
As well, the Moderna Museet came highly recommended, and rightly so.
There were all the great masters of the 20th century — Picasso, Dali, Matisse — seeing some of the best certainly educated me to appreciate modern art more.
As you know from my last letter, I went on from there to Malmo, and Oslo, of which I have already written, so I will now attempt to describe the last leg of my Scandinavian journey through the fjord country to the west coast of Norway, and from there, on home to my beloved London. I found myself feeling more excited about that prospect than I expected to.
On 13 August, I set out by train on the Bergen line till we reached the Myrdal railway station, situated at a junction between two tunnels at a breath-taking altitude of 3000 feet, deep in the mountains.
Here we changed trains, and then set off on a 20 km. train trip, which is probably, one of the most beautiful rides in the world – And only accessible by rail!
We were heading for the tiny town of Flan, which nestles in the innermost corner of the Aurlandsfjord in the County of Sogn Og Fjordane. It is a breathtakingly spectacular area, which is inaccessible enough to still have its own version of the Norwegian language.
The Aurlandsfjord is a tributary of the Sogn fjord, which travels for 200 km, winding deep down between snow capped mountain, glaciers and waterfalls. The descent is incredibly steep through twisting tunnels and overwhelmingly beautiful scenery all the way down.
The most perfect scene ever was waiting for us at the bottom, right on the fjord at sunset.
I stayed at a charming hotel built a little way up the slope from the water.
We were served a delicious dinner — the most mouth-watering fish dish I can ever remember eating, before or since!
I was curious about why the salmon was so white and was told that that’s how its flesh is before spawning occurs.
I shared a table with a rather shy young American dentist during dinner. He was interesting and amusing to talk to once he had recovered from his initial embarrassment on booking in caused by the receptionist thinking we were a couple and had tried to allot us a double room!
All told, it had been a truly wonderful day and was followed by a very contented night’s sleep. The next morning we had a magical four-hour boat trip, moving quietly along the last stretch of the fjord. The water was intensely blue. It can be 1300 metres deep in places.
(I am still struggling with the metric system!).
It was such a magical place that I didn’t really want to leave, but I had a deadline to meet, so I continued on by bus up a very steep mountainside, passing the famous twin waterfalls and on to the town of Voss where there was a warm, welcoming youth hostel waiting for me.
Voss is a charming village surrounded by snow-covered mountains and is quite a popular ski resort. It had one of those fairy tale mediaeval wooden stave churches, which I was drawn to explore before moving on to Bergen on the west coast.
Bergen is an important port encircled by water and mountains and is called the City of the Seven Mountains.
I had plenty of time to have a good look around before leaving by ship for Newcastle the next day. The city centre faced towards the fjord and is in the process of modernizing.
Along the waterfront was a colourful line of high peak roofed, 18th century houses, with fishing boats bobbing in the water in front of them – a scene which all the tourists love to photograph.
I had arrived there at noon and the ship sailed for Newcastle at 5:30 PM, arriving there the next morning at 11.30am and I then caught a train to London, arriving back that evening.
It has been quite a challenge to put the whole of the Scandinavian experience in sequence.
I hope that you can make sense of it and enjoy it with me! It had all been very worthwhile.
One thing I confirmed for myself is that there are certain advantages to travelling alone.
Firstly, I have realized that I am more inclined to reach out and get to know the people I meet along the way.
Being by myself and in control of how and where I spend the time available when on the road also allows me to explore at my own leisure, and this is becoming more important to me as my interest in the arts, architecture and history deepens.
I have been very fortunate along the way of never having had my sense of safety challenged.
I have felt very much at home, particularly travelling through the Scandinavian countries.
On short acquaintance, they even remind me quite a bit of Australians, easy going and less class conscious than the Brits. They have a reputation for being more modern and ‘sexually liberated’; though I think we may outdo them when it comes to a sense of humour!
All in all, I am very grateful for a great European summer travel experience!
I was very happy to have letters from Mum and Janet waiting for me when I arrived back in London
It is your turn next, Leonie! Now it is time for me to prepare for the British Isles trip!
Meanwhile much love to all
And next, join me for hitchhiking through Great Britain