Freitag, 1. Januar 2016

Sweet Sixteen

2015 is done & dusted, and with it come all the usual polls and best-of-lists. When it comes to music, I decided to make my own this year. The idea came when I leafed through a British music magazine in Oslo that listed the "100 Best Records of the 90's" and didn't include a handful of records wich I am utterly convinced should have been in the Top 50 at least. Also, last spring a Finnish friend and fellow music lover had asked me for some of my personal recommendations, which I failed to deliver up until now. After reorganizing & archiving my CD & vinyl collection over Christmas I felt this was the perfect time to do it.

Since my outlook on the vast universe that is the music industry will be just as myopic as any music journalist's best guess, I decided to make things a little easier for myself and just pick my favourite albums out of the records that I own myself (around 450 in total). This automatically narrows the scope of my ranking to a certain type of music, because my collection mostly consists of what people would call indiepop/rock/folk music. Also, I decided to spare you recommendations of well-known & widely acknowledged all-time-classics even if I own and love them (such as Billy Joel's "52nd street" or the Dire Straits' eponymous debut) or stuff from bands that received lots of radio airplay in recent year (such as Alt-J or The Strokes) - both you can find (or, more likely, have already found) somewhere else. 

In short, I tried to pick albums by artists that are lesser known to the large public, but in my humble opinion deserve all the more attention and in many cases have an interesting and often fairly deep back catalogue. So without further delay, here are - in no particular order - 16 albums that you should listen to in 2016; albums that take a special place in my record collection, and maybe deserve one in yours as well!

Howie Beck - "Howie Beck"(2004)Howie called me his "first Austrian fan" and while I'm not sure this is true (I only discovered him because his album "Hollow" received regular airplay from Vienna-based but Canadian-born FM4 DJ John Megill) I may well be his biggest fan worldwide. After the remarkable "Hollow", recorded over a long Toronto winter in his apartment during a bout of mononucleosis, he one-upped himself with this self-titled 3rd album which is full of well-crafted songs from start to finish and again combines intimate bedroom-recording feel with hi-fi sound quality. Howie, sometimes dubbed the "Woody Allen of Indie Rock", has since lent his brillant ears and meticulous attention to detail to many other artists and made himself a name as a producer.

The Shins - "Chutes too narrow" (2003)
"Those guys are famous already", you're probably thinking now. Well maybe they are, at least since Zach Braff and Natalie Portman introduced them to a wider audience in "Garden State". Still, this list wouldn't be complete without the Shins, whose early albums I especially dig. I love James Mercer's high-pitched voice, unusual phrasing, the articulate but often cryptic lyrics and the crazy energy of the band's early lineup. Their new lineup doesn't carry the same magic for me, even though Mercer is still (and has always been) the brains of the band. Sandwiched between two other great albums ("The Shins" & "Wincing the Night away") "Chutes too narrow" is probably my favourite Shins record, filled with fantastic guitar pop from start to finish, even including some lovely country-rock twang in "Gone for Good". The only disappointing thing about this album is that it's over way too soon.

Morphine - "Cure for Pain" (1992)
I still remember being introduced to this band's trademark minimalistic sound (containing only bass, baritone saxophone & drums - the band once called it Low Rock) through the earphones of an American friend's Sony Discman on the campus lawn at a summer school in Hungary. None other than P.J. Harvey once called Morphine "The sexiest band alive" (coming from her, that means something!) and indeed the low frequencies of Dana Colley's baritone sax & Mark Sandman's 2-string slide bass go directly to your abdomen and everything below. Unfortunately, besides a love for beat poetry, Sandman also had a love for cigarettes and eventually suffered a fatal onstage heart attack during a rock festival in Palestrina, Italy in 2003, but he left us with a legacy of 5 studio albums that are a testament to his quirky charisma & creativity.

Jonathan Wilson - "Fanfare" (2014)
If I would have to name my favourite album in recent years, it would be this. Jonathan Wilson, born in North Carolina as the son of a baptist priest, moved to L.A. in his twenties and soon made himself a name as a guitar builder, studio hotshot, Laurel Canyon folk revivalist, and vintage producer with his own studio in Echo Park. As a solo artist he's somewhat of a late bloomer, following up his inspired 2010 debut "Gentle Spirit" with the even more ambitious and sometimes truly epic "Fanfare", which is filled with everything you loved about the 70's. Featuring guest appearances from the likes of Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, and The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell, this album covers a wide range of styles and every song (often exceeding the 6 minute mark) is a treasure chest in itself. Much like the cover suggests, this album takes you up into the clouds for an amost divine experience.

Gomez - "How we operate" (2006)
Showing early promise in winning Britain's prestigious Mercury Music Award in 1998 for their debut "Bring it on" this 5-piece band has come up with a string of good releases (7 full-length albums and a couple of EP's, live recordings and rarities) that earned them a loyal following mostly in the UK and the US. Full of talented musicians and 3 different singers (Ian Ball, Ben Ottewell and Tom Grey) this band from Southport, UK sounds more American than British combines catchy with quirky, and has made it through almost 2 decades with virtually no drama, and surprisingly little recognition. Check out their video for "See the world", this album's charming single.

Helmet - "Meantime" (1992)
Probably one of the most influential noise rock albums of the 90's, Helmet impressed me - at the time a 16-year old wannabe metalhead who looked more like 14 - because they delivered heavy music without looking the type - and neither did I. With their short haircuts and unremarkable streetwear they came across like ordinary college kids (band leader Page Hamilton had actually studied jazz guitar) but their sound was that of a bulldozer mowing down everything in its path. After firing 2nd guitarist Mengede, Hamilton's band somewhat self-destructed, but the dropped tunings and staccato riffs influenced many metal bands in the new millennium, and on "Meantime" they're at the top of their game.

Kyuss - "Welcome to Sky Valley" (1994)

The same can be said about the mighty Kyuss from Palm Springs, California, who spawned a string of epigones and defined the whole Stoner Rock genre. Josh Homme, who would later found the Queens of the Stone Age, was honing his skills as the young guitar prodigy here, driving his heavily distorted guitar through a bass amp, and leaving the singing duties to the bluesy howling of  John Garcia. They built a cult following through "generator parties" (where they would drag their equipment into the surrounding deserts of Joshua Tree National Park to play under the stars) and that vibe perfectly comes across on "Sky Valley". As the liner notes say: "Listen without distraction"

Wilco - "Sky Blue Sky" (2007)
Another American band that was influential in defining a genre, in this case Alternative Country. Lead singer Jeff Tweedy can look back on a long and illustrious career with its ups & downs, has recently recorded an album with his son (meanwhile an accomplished drummer), and has a back catalogue full of interesting, diverse and sometimes challenging music. However, "Sky Blue Sky", my first Wilco album, is a perfect place to start, simply because it's so accessible - the songs are all superb here and the addition of another quality musician in guitarist Nels Cline (who shines on several solos here) lifts the already tasteful material to another level. 

Kula Shaker - "Strangefolk" (2007)
The biggest britpop band you may have never heard of, Kula Shaker burst onto the scene in 1996 with their  platinum debut "K" (the UK's fastest-selling debut after Oasis' "Definitely Maybe") which featured rock anthems sung in Sanskrit ("Govinda"  & "Tattva") and earned them TV appearances and celebrity status in the UK. However, a difficult relationship with the Yellow Press took the fun out of it and caused Crispian Mills to disband the band just 3 years later. Out of the blue, they resurrected (or reincarnated) in 2006 with "Strangefolk", a great album that went largely unnoticed in a changed musical landscape. 20 years after "K", their 5th album (consequently titled "K 2.0") is due in February 2016 and I can't wait to see them live for the first time in Munich on February 23.

John Butler Trio - "Sunrise over Sea"(2004)
John Butler is half-American but grew up in Australia and honed his skills as a street musician before founding John Butler Trio. An accomplished fingerpicker and lapsteel guitarist, he is also an outspoken activist on environmental causes and aboriginal rights, which shines through in songs such as "Company Sin" on this brillant album. Like Australian rock band Powderfinger (another favourite of mine), he is regularly playing to sellout crowds down under, but has largely remained under the radar in Europe. I still haven't given his latest album "Flesh & Blood" enough spins, but I think it's safe to say that "Sunrise over Sea" remains his best effort.

Firewater - "The Golden Hour" (2008)
Recorded over a 2-year period of travelling through the Far East, and featuring field recordings of Sufi drummers and other exotic instrumentation, "The Golden Hour" was also the soundtrack to my own adventure (travelling through Algeria in 2009) and is therefore the Firewater album I have the strongest personal ties to, although I like all of their output. Like every other Firewater album, it has a unique flavour and atmosphere, but is at the same time instantly recognizable as the work of Tod A. (of former Cop Shoot Cop fame), mostly through his often sarcastic, but always very personal and honest lyrics. The perfect soundtrack for a Far East roadtrip!

Calexico - "The Black Light" (1998)
My longtime appreciation of Calexico has earned me the nickname Alexico among some of my friends. And indeed there's no other band that takes up as much space in my record collection, that I have seen live that many (14!) times, or that has even made me travel to their place of origin & inspiration (Tucson, Arizona). A band whose lyrical topics revolve around borders and who at the same time break them down with their collaborative approach (both within the band, and with other artists), combining styles, instruments and influences from all over the world. When asked for my favourite Calexico album, my answer used to be "Feast of Wire" (which i love for its eclecticism), but when I spent time in Tucson in 2011 I found a new appreciation for their 1998 album "The Black Light", which I now love for the exact opposite reason: its cohesiveness and almost concept-album-type feel.

Giant Sand - "Tucson. A Country Rock Opera" (2012)
Speaking of concept albums and the city of Tucson, let's not forget Howe Gelb's Giant Sand (which were the training ground for Joey Burns and John Convertino before going on to form Calexico). Something of a cool cat and father to the alternative music scene in Tucson, Howe's musical output is vast, diverse and from varying quality, but this 2012 effort is truly a gem of an album, and worth getting almost for its beautifully artistic booklet alone, weren't the musical content as brillant as it is. Howe recruited young new talent from Tucson (therefore calling his outfit "Giant Giant Sand") and the resulting 19 tracks all carry this spirit of relaxed collaboration.

Seam - "Are you driving  me crazy" (1995)
Accidently acquired from a former friend who had only bought it for its cool-looking cover which depicts a breaking wave, this album is maybe the best-hidden secret in my record collection. I have never met anyone who knows this album (or band, for that matter) and I doubt I ever will - unless you listen to it, or I happen to stumble into the Asian-American indie music scene. Seam consisted of a changing lineup that revolved around Korean-American Soo-Young Park, who did most of the songwriting and singing, although calling it whispering would maybe be more appropriate. The main attraction of Seam is the music, which is guitar-driven and oscillates between quiet, melodic contemplation and sudden outbursts of anger. The majority of their small fanbase seems to prefer their previous album "The problem is me", but i like this album with its higher share of slower, meandering songs even more.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye (2014)
Fantastic comeback album from Tom Petty and his longtime companions, who show that they neither lost their touch nor their passion. Petty still delivers his trademark nasal Southern drawl, while guitarist Mike Campbell adds some tasteful lead guitar solos. The band show their entire range from rock to blues and even a hint of jazz, and the album has received strong reviews and been called one of his best. An incredible 35 years after "Damn the torpedoes" troubadour Petty proves that he's still a force to be reckoned with. 

J.J. Cale - "Naturally"
Last but certainly not least, this recommendation is also an obituary. Born in December 1938 in Oklahoma City, Cale died in July 2013 in San Diego, and has often been associated with the creation of the "Tulsa Sound" (a mixture of rockabilly, blues and jazz) and described as making "laid-back" music, because of his sparse arrangements, short songs, and slightly behind-the-beat playing. Well-respected by other musicians for his brillant musical output as well as his humble demeanor, Cale preferred to keep a low profile and let other people make hits with his music (Eric Clapton covered"Cocaine", Santana "Sensitive Kind", to name just a few). Though Cale himself wasn't too happy with the sound of his debut "Naturally", it certainly contains some of his most memorable songs and I especially love it for its trashy racoon cover as well :)

Samstag, 19. Dezember 2015

5 months & 5 concerts in Norway

My foreign semester in Oslo has certainly exceeded my expectations in terms of the concerts I've been able to visit here. Since it is always special to see bands play in front of their home crowds, I was keeping an eye out on my favourite Norwegian band, the Kings of Convenience, from the very beginning, hoping to be able to catch one of their rare shows while I was in Norway. The acoustic duo from Bergen, sometimes dubbed the Norwegian equivalent of Simon & Garfunkel, has been a favourite of mine for years, yet I had never been able to see them live. At first it looked like this was not going to change, as their website gave no clues whatsoever on an upcoming tour. Erlend Øye has meanwhile settled down in Italy, recently released a solo album ("Legao", for the record) and probably enjoys the warmer climate down there. It then came as a big surprise when I found out in October that the duo was back in Norway for a home visit, playing 2 shows in Bergen and one in Oslo. Needless to say, by the time I read this there were no tickets available anymore because all 3 shows had been sold out within less than an hour. Live shows of the Kings of Convenience are highly sought after all over Europe, and this is even more true for their home country Norway. However, Sunday October 25 ended up being my lucky day: after standing in front of the Rockefeller Music Club in Oslo for an hour, hoping to score some tickets, me and a young Norwegian fella called Isak slipped in last-minute, because two girls (who had already been inside the venue) came out and sold us their tickets. At first I couldn't believe what was happening (for an hour there had been virtually nobody willing to sell any tickets), but one of them apparently felt sick from the stomach, so they both decided to pull out. I had pretty much given up by that time and would've probably left already if it hadn't been for Isak and his friend Felix - a huge KoC fan and himself an aspiring musician - who decided to stay there until the bitter end. And so I completely owe it to them that I was able to see thei Kings of Convenience for the first time, in front of their home crowd, and with a limited audience. The Rockefeller wasn't even filled up to its maximum capacity because Erlend & Eirik planned this as an intimate gig where they would only play their 2001 debut album "Quiet is the new Loud" from start to finish, complemented by an interview with a music journalist from Bergen who had recently written a book about the creation, circumstances and impact of that album.

What has always struck me about KoC is not just the calm beauty and simple sophistication of their songs, but also the relaxed self-confidence & dry humour with which it is presented. Despite all the earnestness in their music these guys never seem to take themselves too seriously, and can have a refreshingly childish humour which i find is very much a characteristic of the Norwegian and Scandinavian societies in general (just check out their music video of "I'd rather dance with you" to see what I mean). All this was at perfect display here, while the three of them were lounging on comfy leather sofas, having a chat and eating the cake that Eirik's aunt had brought for his 40th birthday. After they got up, they transfixed the audience with a stunningly beautiful set, that even included a new song in the encore, so it could well be that there's new material on the way!

The second gig came just one week later, when American Alt-country legend Steve Earle came to play the Rockefeller as well. Again, it was an artist i hadn't been able to see before, so I jumped at the opportunity to see him. I first became aware of him in the late 90's, when he contributed a haunting tune about death penalty ("Ellis Unit One") to the soundtrack of the motion picture "Dead Man Walking" with Susan Sarandon & Sean Penn. I wasn't even listening to country music at the time and had only gotten the album because of Eddie Vedder's involvement, but remember eventually liking the folky/countryish contributions the most, from artists such as Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Steve Earle (maybe an indication where my musical tastebuds would eventually lead me). But it wasn't until a few years ago that I again came across the name Steve Earle, this time as an actor. When watching all 5 seasons of HBO's "The Wire", I really liked his character Waylon, even though I wasn't actually aware that he was played by Steve Earle. After I had found out, and also seen him play in "Tremé" (where he plays a street musician who takes a young female musician under his wing) I bought his then-current album "The Low Highway" which I really liked, and only since then do I actually consider myself a Steve Earle fan. He toured Oslo in the wake of the release of "Terraplane", his most recent album (a blues record), which came on the heels of his 7th (!) divorce... no wonder he carried that seen-it-all personality so well in his roles on TV! He's quite a character and very talkative, so his shows are as much worth attending for their musical content as for his on-stage banter, which is often comedic, but then suddenly cuts right to the heart as well. He played a super-long set with 2 encores - unfortunately I had to leave during the last song to catch my bus shortly after midnight, and therefore didn't get a chance to talk to him after the show (he already said at the start that he would be "pimpin' the merch stand" afterwards) and get my vinyl "Terraplane" copy signed - something which I regret in hindsight because I'm sure it would've been worth the wait.

My third concert was the most rowdy affair, but in a good way. I saw another local Norwegian band, but they couldn't have been more different from the Kings of Convenience. It was the cult riff-rock band Turbonegro, who are actually called Turboneger in Norway, but obviously the music industry prevents them to call themselves like that in the German-speaking world! ;) The band has been around for a long time and has a cult following not only in Norway, but around the world, especially in Germany, calling themselves "Turbojugend". As a member of Turbojugend you even adhere to a certain dresscode, which consists of a denim jacket with a patch of your local Turbojugend (usually your home city) and your nickname (each band member has one, and so do the fans). The jacket usually also features as many punkrock buttons & patches you can possibly sew onto it. Other items, such as sailor's hats, glitter, or makeup are more optional. After checking online, I'm seriously considering of turning my old denim jacket at home into one of these uniforms and joining the Turbojugend Vienna, which at the moment seems to be dormant (4 members, according to the band's website). Anyway, the concert was a blast, with regular beer showers in the audience right from the get-go, and strangers hugging themselves while completely going berserk in the moshpit to titles such as "I have erection"... Turbonegro are all about having a good time, and their lyrics often have strong sexual references, not unlike AC/DC or the Eagles of Death Metal, who have recently become known worldwide through the terrible terror attacks at the Bataclan in Paris, an incident which obviously affected Turbonegro as well: they were sporting a French flag on one of their Marshall stacks, and singer Tony admitted that the Bataclan attack hit "very close to home" for the band. The only song I knew beforehand was "Get it on", but it didn't really matter, the choruses were usually easy to figure out and sing along to. Their encore ended with a fun 80's rock medley, where each band member was introduced with a different song, before they finally walked off the stage in style with Starship's "We built this city" playing over the PA! :)

The 4th concert came shortly before my flight back home. It was the only artist I had seen before, and again, a local Scandinavian - if not Norwegian, than at least Swedish, and from the city of Gotenburg, which is only a 3 hour drive from Oslo. I am talking about introspective guitarist & songwriter José Gonzales, whom I've once seen with his band JUNIP in Vienna a few years ago - a concert that I actually didn't enjoy very much (i remember we even left earlier), but I knew this one would be a different affair, because José Gonzales' fluent guitar picking and fragile voice are much more effective when not drowned out by a full band. He did have other musicians to support him here as well, but they only provided a second nylonstring guitar, percussion and some sparse keyboards and backing vocals, all serving the guitar playing of José - his intricate picking really using the virtues of a nylonstring guitar to great advantage, and the rolling basslines giving his playing such a power, even when it's just him and his guitar. Over 3 solo albums he really created something of a niche for himself, his distinct sound & voice are immediately recognizable and there is no one who sounds quite like him! His set consisted mostly of new songs from his most recent (third) album "Vestiges & Claws", as well as the most popular songs from his previous albums "Veneer" and "In our nature". The new songs bear the same trademark sound, but where "In our nature" had a very dark undercurrent, the new record seems to be somewhat lighter and more positive in tone. Chateau-Neuf, the Norwegian students' association headquarters near Majorstuen in Oslo, also proved to be a great venue - a steep amphitheatre, and where I sat (Row 5, in a central position) the sound was just fantastic.

Just one day later I attended my fifth and last concert in Oslo: en julekonsert, a Christmas concert at the Opera House, featuring some Norwegian opera singers as well as a children's choir. They were tastefully accompanied by a pianist and a small string orchestra and if i comprehended more Norwegian i probably would've understood more of the "plot" which unfolded in front of me, although it was of course merely a vehicle for (and driven by) the various songs. I really enjoyed the performance, though i was also struggling to stay awake at some point; as much as I appreciate the technical skill of these singers and the musicianship of the orchestra, the whole classical music & opera scene will never truly be my thing, it's just a little too cerebral for me! And while it's stunning to hear them hit all the right notes and have these amazingly trained voices, the constant high-pitched singing and permanent use of vibrato just becomes tiring after a while, at least for me. On 2 songs the audience was asked to join in, and after being at the Christmas Tree Lighting in Kringsjå, the Julefest in the Svalbard Church, and the "Lucia" performance in the Swedish Church in Oslo i must say I am slowly getting proficient at Norwegian Christmas songs. "Jul, Jul" is the ultimate Norwegian Christmas song, but "Hark the herald angel sings" seems to be equally popular here. Anyway, the concert was a nice and fitting end to my semester and now I'm ready to fly home for Christmas!

Freitag, 27. November 2015

Ein schwarzer Freitag...

An anderer Stelle hab ich hier schon einmal erzählt, wie sehr Norwegen von den Vereinigten Staaten beeinflusst scheint. Nun, heute erhielt ich einen weiteren Beweis: "Black Friday", ein großangelegter vorweihnachtlicher Ausverkauf um das Weihnachtsgeschäft anzukurbeln, in den USA traditionell der erste Freitag nach Thanksgiving, wie mich die US-Amerikanerin Olivia heute mittag aufgeklärt hat. Zu Thanksgiving übt man sich also im Kreis der Familie in Bescheidenheit und erfreut sich an den (durchaus auch immateriellen) Besitztümern die man bereits hat, nur um sich (oder andere) am Freitag darauf mit neuen materiellen Besitztümern einzudecken - guess it's called capitalism! Warum ein solcher Shopping-Tag Ende November aber ausgerechnet "Black Friday" heissen muss, die entsprechenden Plakate durchaus auch mal hinter rabattierten Gewehren (siehe Foto links, könnte auch aus den USA stammen!) angebracht werden, und wie das alles mit Weihnachten zusammenpasst frag ich mich allerdings schon... aber egal, ich weigere mich ohnehin vor dem 1. Dezember in Weihnachtsstimmung zu kommen, egal wie früh sie die Beleuchtung auch aufhängen mögen. In Norwegen feiert man zwar kein Thanksgiving, aber beim Black Friday ist man voll mit dabei - ganz Oslo schien heute auf den Beinen zu sein und auf Schnäppchenjagd zu gehen! Und obwohl ich erst kürzlich einen sehr guten Artikel zum Thema Konsumwahn (und wie unser Leben dadurch fremdbestimmt wird) gelesen hab, muss ich gestehen dass ich heute selbst keine Ausnahme war. Nach einer recht bitteren Prüfungswoche konnte ich ein wenig retail therapy auch ganz gut gebrauchen... :(

Ursprünglich zog ich ja nur aus um ein kleines Präsent für meine Freundin zu besorgen, und mir Spikes für meine Schuhe zuzulegen; vergangenen Montag war Oslo von einer Glasur gefrorenen Regens überzogen, und ich bin auf dem Weg zur Uni nur knapp einem Sturz entgangen. Zwar kenne ich vereiste Gehsteige ja durchaus auch aus meiner Heimat, aber in Oslo sind solche Verhältnisse aufgrund der zahlreichen Steigungen bzw. Gefälle besonders tückisch! Und da ich demnächst mit Røros & Svalbard zwei absolute Kältepole Norwegens besuchen werde, war das sicher keine schlechte Investition. Und weil ich schon mal dabei war mir Spikes zu kaufen, ging es konsequenterweise gleich mit Schuhen weiter. Bei meiner 4-tägigen Wanderung durchs Aurlands-Tal im September gingen ja meine Raichle Bergschuhe kaputt, und als ich heute ein Paar Zamberlan Trekkingstiefel im "Black Friday" Ausverkauf sah, die um 50% verbilligt waren, konnte ich einfach nicht nein sagen. Dabei war ich ganz froh gewesen hier nicht nur Gepäck anzusammeln, sondern auch das eine oder andere Trumm loszuwerden, noch dazu etwas so sperriges wie Bergschuhe! Tja, nix da... oder, wie man auf Norwegisch sagt: "Nei da!"

Sehr amüsant zu beobachten war heute auch der Run auf das Regal mit Leggins bzw. Sport-Tights. Erst neulich hab ich mit Freunden darüber diskutiert wie beliebt solche Beinkleider hier in Norwegen sind. Grundsätzlich find ich es eh cool dass man (nein: frau!) sich hier insgesamt weniger "aufbrezelt" als anderswo und ein sportlicher Look mehr als nur salonfähig ist, aber die Häufigkeit mit der man hier auf der Strasse oder in den öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln Frauen in Leggins, Tights oder Kompressionsstrümpfen sieht ist schon auffallend & ein wenig amüsant, daran muss man(n!) sich erst gewöhnen...und nei da, sie sind nicht alle unterwegs zum Joggen! Wie mir ein junger norwegischer Freund erklärt hat, sind die beliebtesten Modelle jene der Firma 2XU - das wären richtige Statusobjekte unter den Fräulein in seinem Alter, meinte er - und tatsächlich waren diese heute auch an vorderster Front zu finden:

Abschliessend traf ich die folgenschwere Entscheidung, meinen Heimweg über die Møllergata anzutreten, ein besonders "gefährliches" Pflaster für Musikliebhaber wie mich. Nachdem ich an einem HiFi-Geschäft noch erfolgreich vorbeiging (bzw. eigentlich sogar drinnen war, mich beraten ließ, 2 Kopfhörer-Modelle probehörte, und dann unverrichteter Dinge wieder das Geschäft verließ - Yes!), kam ich aus dem Plattenladen "Big Dipper" nicht hinaus ohne etwas Geld liegenzulassen. Das vor 15 Jahren erschienene und unter seinen Fans geradezu kultisch verehrte Debütalbum "Hour of Bewilderbeast" des britischen Multiinstrumentalisten und Songwriters Badly Drawn Boy alias Damon Gough (der Mann mit der Strickmütze, welcher seinerzeit auch für den tollen Soundtrack der Nick-Hornby-Verfilmung "About a Boy" verantwortlich zeichnete, falls sich daran noch jemand erinnert) befand sich schon länger auf meiner Wunschliste, und dass ich ausgerechnet im teuren Norwegen eine recht günstige Vinyl-Kopie entdeckte war fast schon als Zeichen zu werten... Zeichen wofür? Naja, zumindest um ohne mit der Wimper zu zucken 169 Kronen an Ort & Stelle ausgeben zu dürfen! In diesem Sinne, habt alle eine schöne Adventzeit, und übertreibt es nicht mit den Weihnachtseinkäufen! ;)

Freitag, 30. Oktober 2015

Im Øl... oder auch nicht.

Was Alkohol angeht, eilt Norwegen ein schlechter Ruf voraus, besonders unter Studenten - da ist die Diskrepanz zwischen der Menge an Alkohol die man in der Regel trinkt, und der die man sich leisten kann wohl am größten. Und es ist wahr - Norwegen ist ohnehin schon eines der teuersten Länder, aber beim Alkohol legen die hohen Preise nochmal einen Gang zu. 

Für eine 0,5er Dose Bier im Supermarkt muss man in der Regel zumindest 30 Kronen hinlegen, umgerechnet etwa 3,30 EUR. Das ist schon heftig, wenn man bedenkt dass man in Österreich -  wenn man schlau einkauft (zb vor einem langen Wochenende, wo die Supermärkte starke Nachlässe auf Bier & Wein gewähren) - um rund 10 Euro einen ganzen Karton mit 24 Dosen mit nach Hause nehmen kann. Von solchen Preisen ist man hier weit entfernt. Es gibt zwar mitunter sensationelle Rabatte auf Lachs (der dann oft billiger zu bekommen ist als bei uns daheim) aber beim Bier auf Rabatte zu hoffen... Fehlanzeige. Und sich vor dem Wochenende mit Alkohol einzudecken kann überhaupt ordentlich in die Hose gehen, denn obwohl die Supermärkte hier deutlich länger offen haben als bei uns (meine Stamm-Supermarkt "REMA 1000", direkt hier im Studentendorf und keine 100 Meter von meiner Haustür entfernt, ist Mo-Sa von 8-24 Uhr geöffnet, was sehr praktisch ist falls man sich kurz vor Mitternacht noch mit Getränken & Knabbereien für die Übertragung eine Live-Baseballspiels aus den USA eindecken will) darf man freitags und samstags ab 18h kein Bier mehr kaufen! Dies lernte ich auf die harte Tour, als ich mich an einem warmen Tag im August nach einer Tageswanderung gegen 8 Uhr abends mit einem kühlen "Ringnes" belohnen wollte und der Kassier mir fast entschuldigend erklärte dass er mir die Dose nicht verkaufen könne. Auf Wein auszuweichen ist auch keine Option, den gibt es im Supermarkt nämlich erst gar nicht zu kaufen, dafür muss man (ebenso wie für alle anderen "harten" Getränke) zum Vinmonopolet, dem staatlichen Weinmonopol, wo die Preise ab 10 EUR pro Flasche beginnen. Wenn man Wein kaufen möchte, greift man am besten gleich zu einem etwas besseren Tropfen, da die "Flat Tax" auf Alkohol dann relativ gesehen nicht ganz so stark ins Gewicht fällt (und man wohl auch mehr Freude beim Trinken hat).

Es kommt noch besser: eine weitere erstaunliche Maßnahme ist die Tatsache dass auf Fussballspielen in den Stadien kein Bier verkauft werden darf - bei uns undenkbar! Ich habe das erst vor kurzem gehört und noch nicht persönlich überprüft, aber es dürfte wohl stimmen, denn ich habe mich schon gefragt wie es möglich war dass es bei den WM-Qualifikationssiegen gegen Kroatien und Malta (Norwegen war ja ähnlich erfolgreich wie wir und führt ebenfalls in seine Gruppe an) so gesittet zuging. Ich wohne praktisch neben dem Ullevål Stadion, der Heimstätte des Nationalteams, aber jedes Mal wenn ich daran vorbeigehe und ein Spiel ansteht oder im Gange ist herrscht dort freundliche Picknickatmosphäre, ähnlich wie bei einem Baseballspiel in den USA! Die Leute kommen mit Kind & Kegel, kaufen Schals und Trikots... aber kein Bier. Jedes gewöhnliche Bundesligaspiel von Rapid Wien zieht daheim mehr Betrunkene in der U-Bahn nach sich als ein Länderspiel hier. In den Bussen, in denen die Hardcore-Anhänger der jeweiligen Teams vorfahren, wird aber natürlich auch genügend getrunken, soviel hab ich schon mitbekommen.

Der Erfolg gibt Norwegen Recht - bei der Konsumation von Alkohol liegt das Land mit 6,7 Liter (purem Alkohol pro Einwohner über 15 Jahren) deutlich unter dem OECD-Schnitt von 9,1 Liter und weit unter dem stolzen österreichischen Wert von 12,2 Litern (Daten aus 2009). Die junge Bevölkerung hier kann sich da naturgemäß nicht so recht mitfreuen. "Es gibt bestimmt jede Menge gute Gründe dafür... unsere Vorfahren im 19. Jahrhundert hatten ein Alkoholproblem. Wir kämpfen immer noch mit den Auswirkungen", so formuliert es hier ein City-Guide von der JugendInfo recht diplomatisch. Studenten werden natürlich erfinderisch. Zunächst einmal gibt es das klassiche "Vorglühen", welches hier witzigerweise "Vorspiel" heisst. Eigentlich entspricht es schon dem Koitus, denn bei Preisen von 6-10 EUR für ein Bier in Lokalen beschränkt sich der Konsum unterwegs dann oft auf einige wenige. Eine weitere Taktik ist Freunde und Bekannte die aus dem Ausland kommen zu bitten, einem Bier oder Wein aus dem DutyFree Shop mitzunehmen, dies ist auch meine bevorzugte Methode (vielen Dank an dieser Stelle an Robert & Markus, die mich morgen besuchen kommen). Der Dutyfree-Shop am Osloer Gardermoen-Flughafen ist angeblich einer der umsatzkräftigsten weltweit und daher preislich noch um ein Stück konkurrenzfähiger als andere seiner Zunft. Eine weitere Möglichkeit ist mit dem Bus ins verhältnismäßig "billige" Schweden zu fahren und dort Bier mitzunehmen, oder - ebenfalls sehr beliebt - mit der Fähre nach Kopenhagen, da gibt es direkt auf dem Boot einen Duty-Free Shop, und dementsprechend lustig geht es auf diesen Bootsfahrten dann auch zu, was ich so gehört habe. Manche Studenten, deren Kehle noch regelmäßiger benetzt werden muss, brauen sich ihr Bier auch einfach selbst.

Ich hab dem Alkohol hier weitestgehend entsagt, und muss sagen er fehlt mir auch nicht wirklich. Den wenigen den ich trinke (gelegentlich ein Glas Wein zum Abendessen oder das eine oder andere Bier) lasse ich mir wenn möglich einliefern, und wenn ich doch mal selbst zugreife dann am ehesten im Supermarkt bei einer grünen Dose Pils aus Frydenlund (eine lokale Brauerei in der Nähe von Oslo). Der hohe Preis führt dazu dass man einfach ein bisschen bewusster konsumiert und sich eben nur gelegentlich und in Maßen Alkohol als Luxus gönnt... und so ist es ja wohl auch am gescheitesten. Am kommenden Halloween-Wochenende, beim Besuch von Robert & Markus, darf's dann aber ruhig auch mal wieder ein bissl mehr sein! ;)

Donnerstag, 24. September 2015

No pain, no gain - hiking through "Aua"-Landsdalen

Hiking the classic Aurlandsdalen trail in Western Norway was more beautiful, but also more painful than expected, First, i was lucky with the weather: after a week of heavy rain in Oslo and other parts of the country (including the Hardangervidda Plateau, where the trailhead in Finse is located) the weather brightened up just in time for the weekend. On Friday afternoon I walked around sunny Youngstorget in Oslo, and bought some last supplies in the pedestrian zone of Torgsgata: a new headlamp, some trekking food, oil for waterproofing my leather boots, and a good hiking map of the region at the DNT office..

In the evening, after I had packed my backpack, I found out there was no metro early on Saturday morning that would bring me to Oslo Central Station in time to catch my 6.25 train to Finse. So my hike started earlier than expected: i had to leave my apartment at 5.20 a.m., walk 40 minutes to Majorstuen, and take the first train (6:07 according to the Ruter brochure) to Oslo Sentral. However, when i got to Majorstuen at 6 it turned out the first train wouldn't come until 6.27, so i had to hop into a taxi around the corner and tell the driver to quickly take me to the train station.I figured that for a trip that is usually just 3 metro stops and about 5 minutes away I couldn't pay a fortune. I was wrong though. It is Norway after all, and while the Somalian taxi driver would go on lamenting about the high prices in Norway during our short drive, he still charged me 200 Kroner for it himself. However ironic this was, I was just happy to catch my train - which in the end left with 20 minutes delay.

The Oslo-Bergen railway line is known as one of the most scenic train rides out there, and indeed it was lovely seeing countless lakes and rivers pass by while the train was climbing up towards the Hardangervidda plateau. I noticed that the rivers were carrying a lot of water and thought about friends who had recently had a great time kayaking around Voss. It turned out that the girl beside me, a young Norwegian student, was a paddler herself, but this time she went to Voss not to tame the whitewater rapids, but to learn how to fly - like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 1, at VossVind Indoor Skydiving. Norwegians sure are an adventurous bunch! The price was Norwegian, too: around 900 Kroner for 5 minutes of flying, if I remember correctly. Considering that i had paid 200 Kroner for a 5-minute taxi ride, maybe the price acutally wasn't all that bad, though.

Day 1: Finse to Geiterygghytta (15 km)

I got off in Finse, at exactly 1.222 meters above sea level and 11.30 am. The only hotel there is rather fittingly called Finse 1222, and that's where I went to seek shelter and "gear up", since it was cool, windy & raining outside. This didn't surprise me, the weather forecast had predicted rain between 12 and 6 pm on Day 1. This was exactly the timeframe I spent hiking and indeed drizzle, sleet or even snow were constant companions that first day. However, I was in good spirits and enjoying the start to this multiday-trek, my first since hiking the Hoh River Trail with yoga buddy Aaron in Olympic National Park in 2011. The hike started uphill with an ascent to Klemsbu (around 1.500 m elevation, a popular dayhike from Finse), passing a glacier and several snowfields in the process. 

It then mellowed out through a cool landscape that reminded me of the description of George R.R. Martin's "Riverlands" in the Game of Thrones books. 

Because of the weather I hardly took any breaks and all in all it took me around 5 1/2 hours, exactly the time that had been suggested on the map. I intended to do the whole trip camping in the wilderness, and since I had to comply with the regulations of allemannsretten, which requires you to camp at least 150 metres away (and preferably out of sight) of any buildings, I decided to pitch my tent about 300 m from a DNT cabin called Geiterygghytta, on the other side of an adjacent lake. While doing that it started raining heavier, so as soon as the tent stood erect I quickly retreated inside, changed into dry clothes, had a hot miso soup, a can of sardines and tea for dessert before retreating into my sleeping bag at 8pm already. My tent (Salewa Micra Base II, 3.5 kilograms) may be a bit heavy for solo trekking but on days like this it really is worth carrying the extra weight. It is incredibly useful to have a sheltered space where you can leave your dirty shoes, wet gear, and where you can sit and cook, not having to take everything inside your "bedroom"!

Early to bed, early to rise, i woke up at 6am and had breakfast just as the sun was rising outside my tent. I had instant coffee and a delicious strawberry rice pudding while listening to Wilco's Jeff Tweedy sing "maybe the sun will shine today..." - definitely one of the best moments of my trip, and it looked as if Jeff was right on the money in his lyrics!

Day 2: Geiterygghytta to Østerbø (20 km)

Beautiful as this photo may be, day 2 was a bitch. I had been somewhat prepared for it - mainly because I intended to go all the way to Østerbø instead of stopping at Steinbergdalen (some prefer to split this up in 2 days) but also because i had been warned by a "whistleblower" from the US ;) Kelcey & Jim, a couple from Seattle, had done the exact same hike about a week earlier and posted some fine pictures on Instagram, which is how I got in touch with them. Kelcey was so nice to send me a detailed report of their trip, and the underlying message was: it's not as easy as it's described in the guidebooksWell, I had found out about Aurlandsdalen in my Lonely Planet travel guidebook, and that had very little description of the route itself - but I knew that anything Lonely Planet bills as a "classic trek" would be a little more than just a sunday walk. I had chosen my previous multiday backpacking trips (Grand Canyon, Saguaro & Olympic National Parks) on Lonely Planet recommendation so I kind of knew what I was in for. Still, Kelcey was right in that the second day was tough, especially if you decided to do both segements in one day. The map description of 3 + 3 hours didn't really do it justice (I needed more like 4 and 5 hours, hiking from 10 am to 8 pm) but it was also 2 quite different walks in character, so doing it in 2 days rather than 1 made a lot of sense to me in hindsight. The first part, Geiterygghytta to Steinbergdalen, lead through a beautiful desolate plateau-like landscape with countless stream crossings, whereas the second part (Steinbergdalen to Østerbø) was basically just one long traverse under a cliff. But that cliff had received a lot of water lately, and all that runoff had trickled down - in fact was still trickling down - into the trail... add a few hikers treading through with heavy backpacks and what you get is a good ol' mudpit! 

At times this felt like I was preparing for Vancouver Island's notorious Shipwreck Trail - on top of that, my right shoe's Vibram sole was coming off, and the shoe was not waterproof anymore, as I quickly found out in the mud. Also, my right knee, which had started to bother me a little aroun noon on downhill sections, was now getting worse and even hurting when walking uphill (and yes, there was plenty of uphill walking here as well, despite it being a traverse). I tried to remain positive, singing spoof versions of "My boots are made for walking" to myself (where I would somewhat rephrase the lyrics), but it was truly challenging. All the other hikers i had encountered thus far (1 Norwegian couple, 2 Norwegian girls, 4 Norwegian ladies - clearly there are more females on the trails here!) were already ahead of me, so I didn't even have company to bitch about the trail with. Early on I met a lady with a walky-talky, and thought she was working for DNT, but she was just herding sheep up here and looking for a few lost specimen. Poor lady - at least I had chosen to be up here! After several gruelling and increasingly painful hours I finally limped into Østerbø, my socks soaked in mud (both shoes were coming apart now!) and headed right onto the deserted campground of Østerbø Fjellstove, a small but cozy mini mountain resort. I didn't even register until the next morning, because i was so full of mud and worn out that i didn't want to enter the main building. Plus, it would only have made me feel bad about having to camp in a tent - walking past the cabin and seeing the other hikers go about their candlelight dinners behind the windows was already enough salt in my wounds. But hey, Camping is in-tents! 

After putting up my tent on the campground (which I had all for myself) I went to the nearby bathrooms, which were super cosy and had floor heating. I secretly hid my muddy hiking boots & socks in a corner under the sink, to help them dry over night. There was a coin shower that required you to feed it 10 Kroner coins - "until the desired time shows on the display". Well, I only had one 10-Kroner coin, and this being Norway I mentally prepared myself for a very short shower! I even wetted my hair in the sink and applied shampoo beforehand, so I'd have enought time for the rest of my body once the coin dropped. But sometimes Norway surprises you, and that coin shower in Østerbø sure did: after I dropped the coin, the shower started running and the number 13 appeared on the display. Traumatized by the taxi ride i mentioned earlier, I was sure that these couldn't be minutes though - this had to be some arbitrary number or shorter time unit. I tentatively started washing myself, always peering at the display to see when it would switch to "12" so I'd get a feeling for how much time I had for my shower. Astonishingly, it took a full minute, meaning that I really got a 13-minute shower for just 10 Kroner! Now that was value for money, let alone in Norway... happy as a pig in mud, I enjoyed every minute of it, most of the time just letting the hot water run over my trapezius muscles that were pretty sore from carrying a 20-kilo backpack for the past 2 days. After the shower, i felt wonderful and topped it off with Kung Pao Rice with Chicken and a quarter litre of red wine in my tent. I had carried more than half a litre of quality Austrian red with me and now it paid off! Not only did it crown my dinner, but it also made me forget the tough day and put me to sleep quickly, my dilated blood vessels quickly heating things up in my sleeping bag. I slept like a stone from 11 pm to 8.30 am the next day. 

Day 3: Østerbø to Sinjarheim (13 km)

When i got out to go to the bathroom at 9 am the next morning, the few others hikers i mentioned earlier were already gone or just getting on their way. This was somewhat discouraging, and so was my knee, which already hurt a little when I was walking over the campground. I decided that maybe it was the smarter thing to give up and take a bus to Aurland, so I asked the lady in charge about buses - but there were none, and this being the end of the season she also didn't know anyone else who could take me down the valley. The only option was to call a taxi to Aurland for 750 Kroner but it would have hurt to pay all the money that I saved myself by camping just for yet another taxi ride, and missing out on the most beautiful part of the hike, because on day 3 the trail would finally lead into the actual Aurlandsdalen valley. The past 2 days had just been the build-up, so to speak, Day 3 was supposed to be the climax! My knee at least seemed a little better than the night before, so i decided to give i a try, though I had serious doubts if it was a wise thing to do. But the lady had pointed out that there was one option to exit the valley, about 2 hours into the hike. so I decided that if i wasn't feeling well after the first two hours, i would take that exit and try hitchhiking. 

After breaking up camp it was exactly 12 o' clock noon when I finally got on the way. At first it was an even trail, which was good news for my knee, and it was less muddy here than the day before, which was good news for my mental state as well. At first the trail wound around Østerbø's lake and another, beautifully cobalt blue lake to Nesbø, one of a few old farmsteads of the Aurlandsdalen, which are now privately owned but restored with public funding, because of their historical importance. After all, this was one of the first routes connecting Eastern and Western Norway. It was also the most scenic part of the hike, and even came with T-shirt weather, because compared to the windswept plateaus i had hiked before, there was little exposure to the elements down here in the protected valley. It was a whole different ecosystem down here, with ferns, buttterflies & mushrooms that I enjoyed capturing with my camera's macro function.

The trail led into the valley and followed a river called Aurlandselvi which about 25 kilometres later would empty itself into Aurlandsfjorden. Despite some pain, I felt like I could carry on and passed the "early exit" the lady had pointed out to me.

However, going was slow, and as the pain in my knee started flaring up again, I had to restrict most of the workload to my left leg and use my trekking poles as crutches. What would I have done without trekking poles and gaiters! The poles helped me carry on and the gaiters kept the sole to my right shoe, otherwise I would've been flip-flopping around for a long time already! Due to my slow pace and late start I knew I couldn't do the entire 19 kilometres on that day, so my goal was to at least get to Sinjarheimen or Almen - two more abandoned farmsteads nestled into the valley's right ravine that, at least on the map, looked like they would offer enough plain-level space to pitch a tent. I could already spot Sinjarheimen from kilometres away and decided this would by my final destination for the night. When i got there at 7pm, i was surprised to see that there were people there - 1 bald head already looking at me from afar, and one stripped butt, just as I was coming up close! It turned out that those 2 guys, Michael and Finn-Christian, master carpenter and assistent (kind of) were up there to restore the historic cabins. And as they saw me limping up towards them, they quickly offered me a spare bed in one of the cabins.

And so my luck turned that day and i had the opportunity to not only sleep in a place brimming with history, but also enjoy the company of those 2 interesting and nice fellows. To thank them for their hospitality, I offered my remaining Austrian red wine, and they had some tasty salami and cheese from local produce of which I tried a few morsels. It was great to be in company and forget about my bad knee for a while and talk to some locals. They had interesting backgrounds and as we rambled on, we covered all kinds of meaningful topics, from Norwegian painters to country's demographics, from religion and buddhism to the human mind, from Norwegian women (joggebuksen was a new word I learned here...) to women or relationships in general. After a while we realized it was actually freezing cold, so we retreated to our different rooms. Given how small the place was, it seemed hard to believe that these historic cabins used to shelter 20 people in their heyday, but there was certainly enough space for 3 grown men - although even the shortest one of them (yours truly) had to lie slightly diagonally to fit inside the bed! People were short one or two centuries ago, even in Norway! 

Day 4: Sinjarheim to Vasbygdi (6km)

The other advantage of not having to sleep in a tent that night was that I could start early the next day. Just packing your backpack takes way less time than breaking up camp. Finn-Christian (the "assistant") helped me down the first steep 2 kilometres of the trail, even carrying my backpack for me. I then assured him that i could do the remaining 4 k alone, so he could get back to work with Michael. However, my knee hurt from the beginning on Day 4, and wasn't of much use at all anymore! On every uphill part I only used my left leg only (like an older person who has to take one step at a time on a staircase) and on every downhill part I had to heavily rely on my trekking poles so it became much more arm and upper body work than anything else. It took me a good 2 1/2 hours for those measly six (mostly downhill) kilometres on Day 4. I only encountered 2 American girls from the Pacific Northwest, on their way up for a dayhike. I thought of Michael who had already jokingly remarked  "lotta girls up here today!" the night before, referring to the mostly female hikers that had been on the trail before i arrived. Well, here were 2 more - and pretty ones, too! ;)

When I finally made it into Vasbygdi i found out there were no weekday buses anymore (season over), but after some unsuccessful knocks on doors i found a young couple whom i asked to call a taxi for me. Turned out the Aurland Taxi was just one cab for the entire region that day and it was booked 'til 5pm... but the tall guy, who had been silent up to that point, suddenly just offered to take me to Flåm by car. I thought this was quintessentially Norwegian because up to that point I wasn't sure what to make of him - whether he was annoyed that I kept him from work or that his girlfriend had to make that phone call, was hard to tell. But Stian turned out to be a real gentle giant, hailing from Tustna, one of the many remote islands on the Western coast of Norway, 3 hours from Kristiansund. He told me that his girlfriend had inherited an old farm in Vasbygdi and that they wanted to fix it up together, to grow some special kind of cattle breed. For now, it was a side business (he was still working in his main job in construction as well) but he was hoping they could turn it into more, and I wish him luck! He drove me to Flåm, a tourist hub just a few kilometres away from quiet Aurland, where he had also worked on a tourist boat the previous season.

Flam is a small village of approximately 500 inhabitants, but receives over 500.000 tourists annually. Unsurprisingly, this must cause a certain resentment or at least weariness among the local population. Stian said he was looking forward for the season to be over, and after he dropped me at the pier I immediately understood what he meant. A huge cruise ship was blocking most of the view, but still tourists left an right were taking pictures of the fjord...or what was left of it to see. The cruise ship market has been the most profitable business in tourism in recent years. despite facing some criticism, not least since the Costa Concordia disaster. Stian also had a shocking true-crime story of a quarreling Italian couple, where the husband possibly threw his wife off the cruise ship last year in Flåm. At first thought of as a suicide attempt, doubts were raised after the woman awoke from the coma - she couldn't remember whether she jumped or got tossed of their balcony, but claimed she never wanted to commit suicide. A murder case has been opened and now the Italian carabinieri will have to deal with it. Finally some fodder for the Italian tabloids, now that the Amanda Knox case has been settled! ;)

Anyway, it was weird to return from such a beautiful and quiet place like Aurlandsdalen, and be confronted with so many people in one spot, After seeing so much beauty and experiencing true solitude in the last 4 days, I couldn't really be bothered with lumbering along to take photos with all the others, so I just dulled my hurting knee with a microbrew porter at the local Aegir Brewery, and got to know Aida, a nice young lady from St. Petersburg who worked as a volunteer on the pier, assisting the cruise ship tourists with their land excursions. She was really friendly and trustingly gave me her iPad (guess she saw that I wasn't capable of running off with the thing anyway) so I could get in touch with my dear ones and let them know that I was ok... except for my knee... and my hiking boots, which were ready to be trashed! For a few days after the hike my knee felt like it might have to be trashed as well, I was already suspecting some more serious cartilage or meniscus damage, but after about a week of limping around in Oslo as well the symptoms gradually wore off... and meanwhile I also bought some new boots, so there will be more multiday hikes for me! I haven't decided where yet (the Dolomites next spring are high on my wishlist) but vi skal se...

Donnerstag, 17. September 2015

Jeg skal gå på tur i helga!

In my last posting I gave you a virtual tour through the most remarkable drawings of Norwegian landscapes & scenery. Now it's time to see the real thing! After i received the rest of my camping equipment last weekend (thanks to my parents & girlfriend, who made effective use of their free onboard luggage capacities) it is finally time to hit the trail and head out into the wilderness!

Norway has vast possibilities when it comes to hiking, but since the summer season is rather short in the mountaineous areas, my range of options was fairly limited - at least of those regions which I had familiarized myself with and taken into consideration. The peaks of popular Jotunheimen NP or Rondane NP can already be snowy and cold in late September (given their latitude and elevation) and what the vast Hardangervidda Plateau between Oslo and Bergen lacks in high summits, it more than makes up with treacherous snowstorms and sudden winter outbursts as early as September (2 Scottish cross country skiers died in one of those snowstorms not so long ago). But since weekend trips or dayhikes into the surrounding Nordmarka are still an option in October or maybe even November, I wanted something a little more remote in September. 

Thereore, after consulting my trusted Lonely Planet guidebook and the website of the Norwegian Trekking Association DNT (Den Norske Turistforening), i opted for a 50 km hike from Finse (a stop on the Oslo-Bergen railway line) to Vasbygdi, also known as the classic Aurlandsdalen trek. It is described as a very scenic and historic walk, since it runs along an old traditional hiking trail that connected the East and West of Norway for centuries, and passes by numerous abandoned farms en route through the lush and green valley of Aurlandsdalen. It is also mostly downhill (except for the beginning) and can easily be done in 3-4 days (which is the time window I had at my disposal) covering roughly 50 kilometres of walking distance. It also has the added bonus of ending at scenic Aurlandsfjorden, and seeing a fjord during my 4 months here (preferrably not in winter) was a must.

Originally I had chosen the trip for me and my Austrian friend and fellow hiker Simone, but after she had to cancel due to a conflicting event (she had tickets for the "All Blacks" Kiwi rugby team in London on the same weekend) I decided to do the trip by myself and forego the luxuries of a DNT mountain hut, instead taking my camping gear with me and making use of the quintessential Scandinavian privilege called "allemansretten" ( "every man's right"), which basically allows you to camp anywhere in the countryside, as long as you keep 100m distance to the next house.

I seem to be quite lucky with the weather, because after a week full of rain and grey skies, the weather is predicted to lighten up on Saturday. A welcome change, because this is what the railway station in Finse (the trailhead of my hike) looked like on Wednesday afternoon: 

Even though i've made up my mind to head out under any given conditions, and would actually enjoy putting my hiking gear to the test (after it didn't rain as much as a drop when I hiked through the Hoh rainforest of Olympic NP in the United States back in 2011) I still think that nicer weather would probably make for a better experience... and certainly better pictures, so keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned!