Just to recap from my previous post…
I was standing in a hostel reception with a puzzled look on my face. I’d just been informed that it’s Ascension Sunday – despite the fact that it was a Thursday. Confusion aside, this meant there were no buses, scuppering my plan to visit a glacier.
“But…today’s a Thursday?”
“I know,” the hostel owner replied apologetically. “But we celebrate it on a Thursday in Scandinavia.”
I’m not religious at all so, apart from the obvious ones, I’m unfamiliar with the various Christian festivals. Unbeknown to me at the time, Ascension Sunday is the day when Christians celebrate Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Christians believe this occurred forty days after the resurrection (celebrated at Easter). Due to Easter occurring on a Sunday this means Ascension Day actually falls on a Thursday. It’s only recently that some countries have begun celebrating it on a Sunday (in the hope that more people will be free to attend the service). But the Scandinavian countries still observe the festival on the traditional Thursday. As a consequence, there were no buses.
Upon initially hearing this I was, understandably, left a little confused. I didn’t bother to enquire on which days they celebrate Easter Sunday, Ash Wednesday or Shrove Tuesday. I simply began to wonder what on earth I was going to do. Norway isn’t a cheap place and I was still quite some distance from the glacier centre so a taxi would be prohibitively expensive. I was stranded.
“What shall I do?” I asked despondently. The hostel owner paused for a moment’s thought before suddenly exclaiming, “The Americans!” He then pushed against his desk, sending himself and his chair wheeling towards his computer. “The Americans are going to the glacier too!” he continued, whilst rolling across the office. After arriving at his computer he began hurriedly typing away to retrieve his information on their travel plans. “Yes,” he confirmed, while tapping the screen, “they’re going to the glacier and they’ve got a car.” He then got up excitedly and marched me towards the cabin.
The American group that I’d shared my room with were busy polishing off their breakfast when we burst through the door. The hostel owner explained my predicament and asked if I could possibly catch a lift with them. I then rather melodramatically added, “I will be forever in your debt.” After saying this I couldn’t help but feel it sounded a little silly, after all, I would probably never even see them again. But I was feeling pretty desperate. To be honest I think the Americans just found it rather quaint and amusing. But regardless, they were more than happy to accommodate me, they almost insisted in fact.
As we made our way to the glacier we exchanged tales of our times in Norway, other travel experiences and a myriad of other topics. They were an exceedingly nice bunch of people and it was a very enjoyable journey. And so, due to their kindness and generosity (and some quick thinking from the hostel owner), I got to experience my first glacier, a truly spectacular and unique phenomenon.
Glaciers are essentially like rivers of ice flowing down mountains. And they behave much like rivers, only more slowly. Like rivers they have ripples and eddies that occur as the ice flows over features of the ground, like rocks. The composition at the surface isn’t solid ice as you might expect. It’s formed from little lumps of ice about the size of peas. And the glacier is constantly in motion. This was clearly evident when we left the glacier and the edge looked completely different to how it appeared when we first climbed on.
In order to explore the glacier we had to put on crampons and be tied together. We were then given an ice pick each to help with the climb. The guide then led us onto the glacier and took us on a tour while showing us the interesting features. It was an amazing experience to be honest. I greatly enjoyed seeing up close the strange feature that I’d first spied from a distance in Iceland.
The friend I was speaking to when I initially decided to visit a glacier had asked me to bring a piece back. I’d arrived prepared with an empty drinks bottle. So, using my ice pick, I hacked as many of the pea-sized lumps of ice into my bottle as I could. It was a lot harder than I expected. But I was glad I did. She still has the melted ice in a small decorative glass bottle as an ornament. I recently gave her a companion to the ice by bringing back some sand from the Sahara Desert during my Morocco trip. I figured the two would complement each other.
After leaving the glacier it was time to make my way to my accommodation. This proved decisively easy as my American companions insisted on driving me there, despite it being in the opposite direction for them. They were certainly a great bunch and I was incredibly fortunate to have met them. They truly saved my day. I have no idea what I would have done without them.
I received a few amused comments about my account of the hash dealers in Marrakesh. Well, as amusing as they were, they didn’t top the one I encountered at Oslo train station while waiting for my train to the airport.
I was standing outside the entrance killing time before my train left. I’d noticed a number of characters loitering around and approaching people. I’m not completely naïve; it was quite clear they were cannabis dealers plying their trade.
As the time of my train departure approached I entered the station and made my way to the platform. As I did so I was approached by a young man. He wasn’t intimidating or anything. He actually seemed quite nice. But not being a Norwegian speaker I didn’t understand what he said. Well, technically I didn’t understand it, but in reality, I got the gist of it. But, I had a train to catch so in order to end the conversation quickly I decided to play the helpless foreigner card and replied, “Sorry mate, I don’t speak Norwegian.”
I’d been rather surprised at how well Norwegians speak English. For example, when I was waiting to leave a different train a young man of about fifteen asked me something in Norwegian. I apologised and explained that I didn’t speak Norwegian. Without blinking he replied, in impeccable English, “Do you know if there’s anyone in the toilet?” I was a little surprised, but not as much as I was at Oslo train station.
It’s all well and good when some hardworking school children have developed good English speaking skills. But you’d assume that the kind of guy who ends up loitering around train stations selling drugs probably didn’t do that well at school, and consequently doesn’t have a great grasp of English. Not so. English is so ubiquitous that even the drug dealers speak it. In response to the apology for my incomprehension the guy immediately replied, again in perfect English, “Do you want to buy some cannabis?” It was what happened next that really made me laugh. I replied, “Cheers, but no thanks. I’m cool.” Without missing a beat the guy smiled mischievously and replied, “Do you want to be cooler?”