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The singing ship, sanguine

Part 1 of a 2008 Norway/Copenhagen travelogue

by Thor Iverson

This is an ultra-brief rundown of a last-minute voyage to the land of my forefathers. Well, actually, my fore-fore-forefathers, with maybe an extra fore- in one case), but these are unnecessary details. Pictures are included, but extensive narrative is not. There’s not a whole lot of wine content here, either, outside of one excellent gathering of oenophiles that will come a little later, but there is some commentary on what is – for me – a surprising culinary revelation. More on that later. For now, on to the travelogue…which starts, as most of them do, with a tiny bottle of crappy wine on an airline.

30 August 2008 – somewhere between Boston, Massachusetts and Schiphol Airport, The Netherlands

Santa Domingo “Casa Mayor” 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley) – Better than last time, which is minor praise at best. Dark fruit with strappy greenness and tar. Drinkable in a pinch. Finishes like amaro, and not one of the good ones.

[ship prow shadow][Viking ship prow]

31 August 2008 – Oslo, Norway

Scandic Edderkoppen – For a chain hotel not exactly known for its luxury, this is more than serviceable, though it’s crawling with businesspeople and has to turn several desperate latecomers away at the front desk. There’s a bar in the lobby, and a really impressive breakfast buffet in the restaurant across the hall. I mean really impressive: six kinds of charcuterie, five kinds of cheese (including the ubiquitous gjetost), various herrings, anchovies, caviar (though only the squeeze-tube kind) pickled vegetables and salad greens, creamy “salads” that only a Scandinavian or Minnesotan could love, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, cut fruit, yogurt, cereals and muesli, fair coffee, fine tea, juices, several kinds of milk, three preparations of (real) eggs, terrific bacon, sausages, meatballs, mini-waffles, jams and spreads, a huge block of excellent salted butter, and an assortment of five or six fresh-that-morning breads (most some variation on whole grain, and many with seeds) that is rather breathtaking in its quality. As a result of this early-morning bounty, at hotel after hotel, I’m able to avoid eating lunch anywhere in Norway…which, given that in some places a bowl of fish soup and a beer can cost nearly $100, is a very, very good thing.

[stave church][door]

Vikingskipshuset – Just an easy ferry ride across an arm of the Oslofjord, this is the most culturally interesting of Olso’s many museums. (In fact, there’s really not all that much to do in Oslo except visit museums. After several days, I conclude that I feel about Oslo much like I feel about Portland, Oregon: a place I’d enjoy living more than I’d enjoy visiting.) The preserved/restored Viking ships, carts, and miscellany are extremely impressive.

Norsk Folkemuseum – Open-air, with a very confusing layout; those less fatigued and more open to aimless, sometimes circular or even helical, strolling will have a better time than we did. But it’s a fascinating place nonetheless, with regionally-specific structures from all over the country, quite a few in-costume demonstrations of traditional crafts (we sample some freshly-griddled lefse at one tiny farmhouse), and some interesting museums. However, Theresa resembles the walking dead at this point in a long travel day, and so we depart earlier than we otherwise might have, missing a lot of the sights.

Thanks to an ill-advised nap, we sleep right through the dinner hour. Not that either of us has the energy for a restaurant meal. So we take advantage of “room service,” which means going downstairs to the check-in desk and purchasing from their selection of pre-made sandwiches, wraps, etc. Well, I suppose it’s technically “service” that one can enjoy in one’s room…

[window][painted window]

1 September 2008 – Oslo, Norway

Oslo has an excellent café culture, which is extremely impressive given the temperatures. It’s also a very walkable city, and that’s what I do today. All day. Admiring the sites, the scenery…and, yes, OK, the many blondes. Sue me for being shallow.

Askershus festning – The nicely-preserved fortifications (though watch those sudden drops!) right along the waterfront enclose peaceful, quite lovely grounds, though the entrances are largely unsigned and thus somewhat difficult to locate. I watch a changing of the guard, wander the peaceful lawns and courtyards, and spend some time just sitting and enjoying the weather, which is very nearly perfect after leaving behind the threat of morning showers. The on-site museum is closed, however, as are all Oslo’s museums…it’s Monday, apparently museum-closing day in Oslo. I wish I’d known, because it leaves me with very little to “do” for the balance of the day.

[cannons][opera house detail]
[opera house by day][opera house at night]

Sanguine – One of the restaurants at Oslo’s utterly breathtaking and spanking-new opera house. If only Sydney’s was this nice. We’re here with a large assemblage of Theresa’s conference co-attendees, and the food is about what one would expect from a group event at a venue that probably doesn’t need to care to succeed. Is that enough of a caveat? There’s a thick gazpacho with shrimp, which is actually much tastier than I’d expect, followed by a flavorless steak with mushrooms, squash, and potatoes slathered with herbed butter. There’s also a dessert of some sort, but it’s not memorable enough to be noted here. And there are a few wines from what seems (based on what I see going around the room in the hands of waters) to be a pretty good wine list. We, of course, are on the conference budget plan, so the more elevated realms of the list are closed to us (and anyway, I have nothing to do with picking the wines).

Codax 2005 Rias Baixas Albariño (Northwest Spain) – Daisy-fresh, riding a line between stone fruit, apple, and salty lemon. Very pleasant.

Guigal 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – A bit twisted and hard, with dark fruit in the background and a dirty, country-road texture. Not particularly enjoyable.

The cultural highlight of the day, however, comes just before we drift off to sleep. Every four years during the Winter Olympics, searching for something to talk about during the less-familiar (to Americans) Nordic events, commentators inevitably mention how biathlon-obsessed Norwegians are. Sure enough, when we return to the room “summer” biathlon (the skis have rollers) is on the national channel. And so, a Norwegian day passes as it should: from herring to ski-shooting.



Copyright © Thor Iverson