Oslo subway: freaky

Åland is one of those great places one’s never heard of, and doesn’t know how to pronounce. Tiny, clean, and not much to do but enjoy the fresh air and beautiful autumn. On a humid and high-pollution Beijing day, it certainly seems like another world. Click through for some pictures, and a few views of Oslo’s quirkier side.


From Iceland, we wound up in Stockholm. It was late September, 2005.

Rich had a beard and an ironically non-ironic t-shirt before the Hipsters thought it was cool. All he needed was an iPad and glasses that belong on a 12 year old Korean girl.

Intimate Stockholm jazz club

Beware the sign that says outfart!


We visited the Vasa, or Wasa, museum – home to the ill-fated ship of the same name. On its very first voyage on 10 August 1628, it sailed off from the dock and promptly sank. It hadn’t even gone 2 kilometers before its top heavy design succumbed to a light breeze and sent it to the bottom of Stockholm harbour. It was raised in 1961 and is quite a sight.

Stern of the Wasa

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Lucky for us our modern ferry was better designed. We arrived in tiny Åland in the middle of the night and found our way to the campsite. Åland is part of Finland, but autonomous, neutral, and Swedish-speaking.  It’s also very pretty.

Aland lies between Sweden,

Aland lies between Finland, to which it belongs, and Sweden, with which most residents identify

Glorious autumn on Åland

Yon never met a mushroom she didn't like

Åland - nice place to retire

Åland - also comes with funny signs

Yes – I know.

But they are so funny.

The Flying P-Liners

Tiny Åland was home to the famous Pommern, a windjammer that sailed the difficult UK-Australia grain trade right to the end of the 1930s. Unlike the famous clipper ships, like Cutty Sark and Thermopylae, which were wooden, fast, and most famous for the China tea trade in the early 1870s, windjammers were steel or iron, slower, much larger, and carried much more cargo. Cutty Sark held the record for the UK to Newcastle, Australia route when it served on the wool trade – 77 days out and 73 back in 1865. Pommern’s fastest one-way run from Port Victoria in South Australia to the UK was 93 days in 1937. But unlike the glamorous tea clippers, these windjammers had no reason to rush, and compared to the clipper’s typical 1,000-1,5000 tonnes of cargo, Pommern carried closer to 4,000.

A fine ship she be, and lucky too, hu-arrghh.

Ever since I’d seen Cutty Sark in drydock at Greenwich as a “wee bairn” in ’79, I’d loved the romance of the tall ships. I enjoyed crawling over Pommern and imagining living and working aboard for two thirds of the year, hauling grain through the Roaring 40s and around Cape Horn.

Ship's figureheads - yet another lost art

The office. Doesn't look so bad...

...until you're rounding Cape Horn (image: National Library of Australia)

Pommern had a fairly comfortable looking interior, but it must have been a hard place to be after 100 sweaty and wet days on the open sea.

Captain's cabin

Even Yon couldn't work out a yoga pose on this thing

After all that time in Iceland, we were really starting to starve. We persuaded ourselves that trying the local burger chain, Hesburger, was a good thing to do. And it was. It even spawned a song: “Hesburger, Hesburger 1, 2, 3; If you want a Hesburger, come with me”. Hell yeah. Hunger does things to a man…

Hesburger was no place for a hipster beard

Our food cravings weren’t satisfied for long by a Hesburger, of course. So on the ferry back to Stockholm, we went to the all you can eat buffet. It seemed like a fortune at the time – 30 euro per head was more than we’d normally spend on food in a week. But it was a very happy night.

Finally, after 7 weeks, something decent to eat.

Beautiful Swedish coastal landscape



We had a few days left before heading to Eastern Europe. We spent them in Norway. In Oslo, we couchsurfed with a lovely woman who made the most remarkable feast. Things were really on the up in the food department – fresh salmon pancakes, reindeer stew, and more desert than we’d seen in what seemed like a decade.

Homemade Norwegian salmon crepes

Oslo sculptures

I really enjoyed the Fram Museum, home to the ship of the same name (yes, I recycled that sentence). The Fram was a polar exploration ship, sailed by Nansen and Amunden on their Arctic and Antarctic journeys, including Amundsen’s in 1910-12 when he became the first person to reach the South Pole.

Ski suits - they don't make them like they used to

Everything you needed to explore the polar regions a century ago. The big gun is for polar bears; the little one is for people who push in at the chair lift.

But Oslo stood out the most for its quirkiness. We found a great district with welcoming semi-underground hangouts. Graffiti, art, and genuinely creative people.

Down with fascism! (Cryptofascism too)

This was a cool art collective cafe (Photo: Yon)

Welcome, ah-hargh! (Photo: Yon)

Bergen and other bits

Sometimes it’s ok to follow the herd. Not everything has to be done the hard way. So we paid up for “Norway in a Nutshell” transport passes, and spent a few easy days on a fjord and on some comfortable trains.

Bergen (photo: Yon)

I'll have a trout, a kilo of salmon and that deep sea monster, thanks

Coffee & cake

Reindeer sausage picnic

By now we’d given up trying to economise on food – six weeks of austerity in Iceland seemed like it warranted a few square meals in Norway. We ate a lot of reindeer in various forms. And potatos. And it was yummy.

Meat and potatoes. How can you go wrong?

i don't know why my bones are so brittle. I drink plenty of Melk.

From here, refreshed, we headed to Eastern Europe. But because I can’t resist finishing as I started:

The hits just keep coming!