From Athens of the north to Paris of the north…

on

“Look at that! Now you know you are in Norway.”

I turned around at the voice of a fellow traveller who stood beside me on the platform; the sky was a smooth, deep orange. I felt as if I had stepped off the plane and right into a watercolour painting. Now I know I am in Norway… I know, yes. But I’m not sure I believe it yet.

That bizarre feeling, as if you’ve been sketched into somebody else’s world but the artist hasn’t quite finished yet, stayed with me for my first two days in Oslo. Infact, I think it is still with me now, though I’ve begun to get a bit of shading.

I was lucky enough to be able to stay with the family of an old school friend of my mum just outside of Oslo. I had a day to myself to explore Norway’s capital which I spent wandering along the main street between ‘Sentralstasjon’ and the palace – almost like a mini Fringe festival I came across circles of tourists clustering around puppeteers, accordianists and magicians and a different ‘living statue’ every 5 metres (most of whom were having a break…an odd sight to see a golden coated man, sitting on his pedestal smoking a cigarette and eating a sandwich.)

By the Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting at Oslo train station, bags by my side, awaiting my train to begin the real journey to my new adventure. I found my seat and a girl, about my age, came to sit next to me. “Hi, are you Norwegian?” I asked in Norwegian, knowing that the answer was fairly obvious but unable to think of another way to start a conversation.

Turned out she was, though had grown up in America so I was saved (not that I’d have minded the challenge!) from stumbling through my guidebook Norwegian. Somehow we managed to chat the 6 or so hours away and before I knew it, I had waved goodbye and was boarding the night train to Fauske. It was late and I was tired so it didn’t take me long to let the gentle rumble of the train drift me into a deep sleep.

I woke with a start.

We were stopped at a station and I quickly cast my eyes over to the large station clock. One arm up, one arm across… oh god, it’s 9am already! I glanced down at my watch, it seemed to tell me the same worrisome time. I was supposed to have arrived at Fauske at 8:25 to catch a bus to Narvik at 8:55. Either I had slept right past my stop or the train was late, but either way I’d missed the bus. I gazed out of the window as the train set off again. It was as light as a dull cloudy day back home. I thought it strange that it wasn’t lighter for that time in the morning. I watched the rolling forest sail by, feeling that there was something strangely comforting about the lack of control I had in that moment. How and when I would reach my destination was held only in the knowledge of my future self and all I could do was let the train roll on and feel the intoxicating peacefulness of a carriage full of sleeping bodies.

It was not until a good while later that I looked down at my watch again, thinking that we should probably have arrived in Bodo (the train’s destination) by now. I stared at the little blue clock-face on my wrist. Quarter past eight it was suddenly telling me. However relieving it was to see this time, I couldn’t overcome the niggling feeling that the clock really shouldn’t be going backwards.

All these thoughts went through my head before I noticed that what I was actually staring at was quarter to four. This brought forth a wash of realisation that somehow in my just-awoken (and more sleep-deprived than I had originally thought!) state, I had managed to read two different clock faces back to front. Twice. And what I had though was 9am was infact 3am.

I flopped back into my chair and gazed back out of the window with that wonderful sense of everything suddenly making sense. Except one thing. There was still something left that didn’t quite fit together. I watched the trees go by beneath the strips of white cloud and it dawned on me. Daylight at 3am. I smiled. Case closed.

The rest of the journey went by without a hitch, I caught both connecting busses fine and was surprised to find a boat ride in the middle of one of the boat journeys. The bus rolled on and we had a 20minute crossing across the fjord. Standing on the deck of the boat staring out at the mountains rising out of the water and the arctic wind blowing through my hair, I felt like there was nothing more magical than being on the very tip of the unknown.

Later that evening, driving in to Tromso and seeing for the first time the place which I had pointed out on maps and atlases so often over the past few months felt incredibly surreal. The bridge connecting the island to the mainland stretched out before me. There it all was, solid and real. The Wikipedia pictures had suddenly sprung to life and left me thinking how strange it was that all those places that I’d visited in my lifetime were existing simultaneously right now. In that moment while I sat on a bus approaching the city of Tromso, someone was cycling down a street in Thailand, standing on a farm in Palestine, wandering a street in Rwanda, climbing a hill in Scotland… I felt overwhelmed with a sudden sense of the vastness but interconnectedness of the world.

In this spinning head-space, I entered the city which is to be my home for the year.

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