I'm just back from a special birthday present trip away. For months I've been told packs of lies by Charley about my birthday treat. I've been told that I'm off to Bournemouth with her best friend, that I'll need to do lots of walking, that I need lots of spending money, that a coach and train are involved, all culminating on Friday morning being told that her Mum was driving us to pick up Louise, the best friend.
When we ended up driving past places Charley didn't recognise I got a little suspicious about actually being on the way to Louise's house, but I sat patiently, watching eagerly out of the window. Arriving at London Stansted Airport I was a little confused to say the least.
In the airport I was handed a card Charley had been keeping secret from good friends Chris, Richard and Andrew. In it was a bunch of Norwegian Kroner... Now I might not be a genius, but I was pretty sure that the Bournemouthians use Pounds Sterling so with a quizzical look on my face Charley explained what was going on....
We checked in to our flight to Oslo with the promise that when we arrived a man I'd been waiting to meet for years would be there with open arms. We flew into Torp airport with no delay or trouble at all. The flight was comfortable and quick – I'd forgotten how exciting flying is! :-)
During our brief journey through the Norwegian countryside heading north to Oslo, we got to see how beautiful Norway is. All the roads, fields and houses are neat, tidy and so colourful. We did however, notice a distinct lack of animals. No sheep or cows at all during the entire 100km journey!
Arriving at Oslo central bus terminal, we were on the lookout for a bald man. Instantly recognisable, I got my first hug from Spinner, originally author of Planetarion and now ManagerLeague
, known better in real life as Christian. He welcomed us to Norway and took us to check in at our hotel.
On the first night we stayed in a Hotel in central Oslo called First Millennium Hotel which was very comfortable, although the view left a little to be desired. We had a street view into a maritime shop... and I'm not a sailing man. Having checked in we headed straight over to Christian's. We got to meet his family, his stunning wife Mrs Spinner, his beautiful baby boy Tobias and his gorgeous girl Daniela.
Their household is extremely welcoming, we were never without food or drink. During the evening we were fed some Norwegian cuisine: flat bread with salty bacon stuff and sour creme, waffles with butter, sugar and cinnamon and the most disgusting thing Charley or I had ever tasted...
Bread with caviar and sour creme. It was foul. Absolutely terrible! Even thinking about it now brings a nasty taste to my throat. I was a nasty boyfriend and made Charley try it first.. she took a small bite and nervously told us that it wasn't quite pleasant. I thought I best be brave and I took a huge chunk of the stuff. It's the worst mistake I've ever made and I'm so thankful to Christian for not taking a photo of my face!
It wasn't just the people I've named at his place for the evening; Shy^, known as Marthe to her parents, came to Oslo to see us! I had spoken to her a few times on IRC and was very excited to hear she had traveled as far as Charley and I (albeit from North Norway) to see us! She's very funny, very pretty and the last word you would ever use to describe her is shy!
The evening was awesome. It was so surreal to wake up on Friday morning thinking I had a 3 hour train journey to Bournemouth to end up drinking a couple of beers with Spinner, the man I've been eager to meet for about 5 or 6 years! I couldn't keep the smile off my face. I still can't believe how perfect Charley is having organised all this.. we've only been in our relationship since the end of December and there I was sat in Oslo for my birthday present, 3 months later.
After a delicious continental breakfast in the hotel the following morning, we had a brief walk around Oslo city centre. We remarked at how quiet the city was for a Saturday.
The number of people walking around was similar to that of a normal British town. Apparently the entire population of Norway (4.6 million) is smaller than London alone (7.5 million). Regardless of it's small size, Oslo has it's own guard protected palace which they chose to call a castle... It's really a palace (a bit like London's Buckingham Palace) but they don't understand castles like us British do. ;-)
We walked up the main street past a load of shops towards the castle. We took a few photos and took in the atmosphere of Oslo. The castle itself is nothing special compared to Buckingham Palace but we did get to see their guard change and to get our photos next to one of their guards. Unfortunately neither of us had the guts to sweep the poor chap's feathers out of his face. What a silly outfit!
At noon, we got picked up by Mr and Mrs Spinner and headed out on a journey into the mountains. We headed north along side the Mjøsa lake, the largest lake in Norway at 100km long! The views were stunning of the mountains, despite us not seeing any snow for much longer than we expected. Even through the lake is 100km long, there are only three cities on it. We passed them one by one, Hamar, Ringsaker and finally Lillehammer where the winter Olympics were based in 1994. The Norwegians don't like to forget their moment of fame, the signs erected for the Olympics 13 years ago are all clean and shiny as if the games were taking place this winter!
We stopped at our hotel, just north of Lillehammer at a small place called Hafjell. After a quick nap we headed out up into the mountains. We headed about an hour even further north, breaking all records of how close I had ever been to the North Pole! At the turning off the E6 “motorway” to a place called Enden, we began climbing up from the river into the mountain.
We stopped at a beautiful hotel resort where Christian fed us even more Norwegian food. This time we were introduced to waffles with goat's cheese like you've never tasted before. The cheese was so strong I could only manage a few bites, it's not something I'll request next time I visit the country! ;-)
After our quick snack we headed outside onto the mountain to take a look at the snow. At this point I have to admit the child in me was rather excited. The snow was, in places, about 6 foot deep! Other than a top layer of ice, the snow was really fluffy and soft.
The ice layer was thin enough that my body weight broke through and I ended up knee deep! I've never seen so much of the stuff at once before... it stretched for miles and miles in every direction! The best bit about all the snow was there being plenty for throwing at Spinner. It was a great feeling after 6 years of knowing him to finally get to cover him in snow! :D
On the drive back down the mountain, whilst my feet were thawing out, we saw road signs that you won't find in England. Apparently whoever designed the roads placed them straight across a ski slope and thus had to place warnings to motorists to beware of the skiers.
The next stop on our tour of Norway was a traditional Norwegian stave church. Made of wood in a stacked tower style, this particular church was created hundreds of years ago. It is a really impressive structure although I noticed a distinct lack of pretty stained glass. Surrounding the building was a cemetery that was compromised of primarily communal graves containing whole families of dead people.
We headed back to the hotel and went straight for our evening meal. We all chose the set three course meal. We ate scampi and curried apples for starters, chicken with rosemary creamy stuff stuffed inside and rice and then quickly devoured chocolate brownie and ice cream. After feeding ourselves, we wandered into the piano bar for a couple of beers. The lady from Bulgaria who provided the entertainment was awful! She wasn't fluent in English so her lyrics sounded made up and terrible! She hurt my ears! Before we went to bed, Spinner finally and officially got to Meet Matt Chapman and is now a proud owner of a t-shirt to prove this.
Overnight the weather drew in and by the morning the sky was on the ground. The beautiful view from our room the day before was now covered in thick cloud. After our tasty continental breakfast we headed back towards Oslo. As the weather wasn't great we didn't get the same views as the journey up so being sleepy and having a knack for falling asleep on long journeys, I nodded off.
We stopped at a Norwegian truckers service station for some lunch and continued back to Spinner's apartment. We must be serious friends of Spinner's already as he introduced us to MrsSpinner's parents! Despite time getting on, we still found a few minutes to play a bit of Guitar Hero. After Spinner showed off his skill, Charley and I got to have a go. It's such good fun that I'm unfortunately trying to budget enough to buy a PS2 as it'll be a while before I'm back in Norway. :-)
Just as I was starting to get the hang of the game we had to jump into the car and head back to Oslo central bus station. After getting the official MMC photograph with Spinner, we said our goodbyes and climbed onto the coach and just a few hours later we were flying up through the clouds and away from Norway.
This was the first time I had flown in to Stansted airport and I'll be avoiding the airport as much as possible in the future! From leaving the plane it took an hour and a half to get to passport control. Apparently too many planes had arrived at once and the airport couldn't handle the surge in arriving passengers. Standing for that long in the heat just to have my passport checked was a really frustrating way to arrive home, especially at 1am at night.
However I don't wish to be negative about the trip... Spinner and his wife are incredibly welcoming people and were perfect hosts for our weekend away. I haven't a bad word to say about them. Their English is very impressive, better than most people from England. I can't thank them enough for making my surprise weekend so great. :-)
And I thank Charley so much indeed for giving me such an amazing birthday present. I haven't been that excited in a long time; it's a birthday I'll never forget. I hadn't a clue at all until we were checking in, what an absolutely perfect surprise! I love you lots, baby.