The advent of spring in cold regions is such a miracle, signifying nature’s act of re-creation, that one should be excused for waxing lyrical.

A simple bud on a tree, so spontaneous and natural.

It is hard to imagine what a short period of four month (that being the Arctic spring and summer) means to people there. Imagine those who have to put up with terrible frosts, darkness for a large part of the year brightened only by the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis. Some countries like the U.S. and Canada bring psychiatrists to their northern regions to prevent gloom and suicidal tendencies. Come summer, the whole country is a green marvel.

But first, I will take you to on a PROMENADE to the first “picture” – Oslo.

I was tempted to visit the northern European countries (see Note A) for some time, but it did not happen till the year that Maggie Thatcher decided to prevent Argentinians from occupying a bunch of islands – Falklands and South Georgia and rename them Malvinas.. That year I looked up my travel literature and booked a hotel in Oslo, (pronounce Oosloo) where we arrived in the last week of May. After trudging through the streets dragging our cardboard suitcases on wheels attached, only to find that the hotel did not open until first of June. We did, luckily, find another hotel.

 Oslo was worth the three days we stayed- to inspect various museums featuring Viking ships (vessels of simplicity and great beauty), Kon Tiki of Thor Heyerdahl’s fame (see note B) and also a whole park in which a sculptor named Vigeland had a free reign to produce anything from sculptures to wrought iron gates. He produced 212 pieces of art.

 Time for another PROMENADE from Oslo to the coast at Bergen

 I accepted advice to take the train to Bergen by daylight and from there take a trip with a small railway to the Geiranger Fjord. It was a most beautiful place to see. The fjord – or inlet, formed as a large lake with spectacular high mountains surrounding it.

 Bergen, the start of the trip to the Arctic is the second biggest town in Norway, a very picturesque harbour town, previously connected to the (mainly German led) Hanseatic Maritime League. I visited the brother of my Brisbane friends – the Hlinkas – a musical family – many of them instrumental virtuosos. The Bergen one, a pianist, performer and teacher, was honoured by the Norwegian king. His Brisbane brother (a violinist who was the first fiddle of the Queensland Symphony) and his wife visited me the night before our departure on the trip asking us to look-up their Norwegian relatives. Both brothers left communist Czechoslovakia legally on condition that they paid a tax to the Czechoslovakian Republic– in addition to the local taxes.

I booked a passage on a steamer which travels along the coast from Bergen to the North Cape and around the top to the Russian border. They call it the HURTIGRUTE. A round trip takes 12 days and a steamer leaves Bergen daily. It is a supply ship which caters for the small settlements along the coast as well as a being a tourist vessel. For the Norwegians, the journeys is a trip of discovery and history (not unlike Australian’ push inland and north and via a Telegraph line). Places of interest that you miss on the way up you pick up on the way back.

The coastal steamer snakes its way around the Norwegian Sea coast for 1200 miles from Bergen to KIRKENES on the Russian border. At the time of our trip there was no land route from south west to the north (along the coast), and the steamer was in fact a lifeline for the sparsely inhabited coast. Frequently, the shipping company organised bus tours to interesting places off or on the coast. One such excursion was to the Ringve Musical Museum at Trondheim which they opened for us at night and their staff performed for us on various musical instruments. I particularly enjoyed the forerunners of the piano – a spinet and clavichord. To have a museum opened for you in the evening was sensational for us. I also had a very unusual experience there. When passing a glass display case I noticed an Australian didgeridoo right beside Czech bagpipes (dudy – pronounced doody) and a voice behind me said, in Czech – are you, by chance,  Czechs  and Australians? Spot on, my first wife was an Aussie girl and the questioner was a Czech living in the UK. The museum has over 2000 instruments and was started by a Russian noblewoman in the 19th century.

On the north-west coast of Norway lies a group of islands called Lofoten which lie well north of the Arctic Circle and are renown for their spectacular formations with the coastline rising directly from the ocean and villages scattered around. On a slope just past the last house in Svolvaer a power line stretched along the road. Attached to it was a glowing light bulb. The bulb was very close to a branch of a tree which was completely bare of leaves, but the heat of that light bulb brought to life a very small bud. A sign of new life. Thousands of fishermen converge on the islands in season. You can see large rows of racks where fish are hung to dry and rows of semi-detached huts of a temporary kind to accommodate the fisherman in season.

 The shipping company takes the boat to a fjord, named appropriately the Trollfjord, where at midnight – in summer – the boat can just get in, serve you pea soup, give you time to enjoy the scenery, turn on a five cent piece  and sail out into the Norwegian Sea towards the NORDCAP.

It was interesting to learn that British forces inflicted a heavy blow to the Nazis in March 1941 when they attacked the islands, sank German shipping and recovered a prized Enigma decoding machine.

Another interesting place was the town (an Island) of Troms. It lies within the Arctic Circle and it claims to be the northernmost university town in the world. At that time the southernmost (Antarctic) university town was Dunedin in New Zealand (It is now Ushuaia the Argentinian town at the bottom of South America (See Note C.)

The northern tip of Norway (and Europe) is at NORDCAP – North Cape. In fact that Cape is a small island, which has a distinction of having reindeer swim to it from the mainland accompanied and herded along, by the Sami people (formerly called Laplanders). Unlike the other northern people like Inuit (Eskimos) they are blond and speak a Uralic language, which is similar to Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. When rounding the Cape we witnessed a group spear fishing in this very far northern latitude. A ship’s officer informs us that thanks to a Gulf Stream, 750 km of land is saved from being permanently iced over.


Promenade from top of Norway to Sweden

 Just south of the cape we landed at Norway’s northernmost township Honningsvag, where we left our ship. We proceeded south, the inland way to Karasjok in Norway to Ivalo and Rovaniemi in Finland (all by bus) and then by train to Turku in Finland and by boat across the Gulf of Bothnia to Stockholm in Sweden. We witnessed a remarkable change of scenery. Trees, more like bushes were quite scrawny in the north, were very tall and statuesque at Turku.


Pictures of an expedition to Sweden’s countryside and the Gota Canal

Apart from inspecting the museum restoring a medieval ship Vasa and the modern and historical parts of Stockholm we decided to flee the capital and spend a few days at a farmhouse in the countryside.  We took ourselves to Falun, which lies northwest of the capital. Falun has a historical copper plant and is also known for having had a king hiding from Danish forces in the year that Swedes were fighting for independence. I could not help but observing and hearing some, previously familiar sounds from my youth in  Europe and the High Country in Australia , like the splitting of timber for next winter ( the last one only finished a month ago) for one,  and a staccato banging of a woodpecker’s  beak into the bark of a tree for another. Some familiar flowers to me, from my youth like forget-me-nots, snowdrops and lily of the valley, were also a pleasant sight.  The forest had trees marked with chalk and red rags, marked by a state forester, which indicate which trees may be felled by the owner of that section of the forest. The farmer told me that American tree varieties grow much quicker and generally produce a better (financial) harvest than grain in the fields. Scattered farms and a cluster of small shops gives an impression of small scale suburbia rather than of a rural area.

A canal running diagonally from the North East (Stockholm) to the South West (Goteborg) provides a sentimental journey for the locals and a pleasant trip for tourists – like us. It is 190 km in length, has 58 locks and also 2 aqueducts. Just imagine sitting on a boat – and all of a sudden you are floating over a six lane highway and waving to the landlubbers below. We passed large trees with white blossoms and I could not put a name to them. I asked a Swede what trees they were and when he told me I was quite embarrassed. They were apple trees, which I knew from my place of birth – where we scaled high fences to get at the fruit and sometimes collected buckshot in our behinds. Large quantities of apples are exported from Australia and some – like Granny Smith – were actually developed here. The only excuse for my lack of knowledge could be that in Australia they cannot be seen in gardens as they would be ruined by fruit-fly, hence they are generally grown on fruit-farms and away from urban dwellers.

The English were the canal building champions and they gave Swedes a hand to build this canal in order to by-pass a narrow stretch of the waterway too close to Denmark which extracted punitive tolls off Swedish ships passing from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. 58.000 workers were engaged on this job which was completed in the early nineteen hundreds. Sadly, it is no longer profitable except for shorter stretches and for tourists.

The section in the middle of the canal has two large lakes: Vattern and Vanern. On one of those lakes I noticed a group of islands in the distance. As the weather was very kind and the sky quite blue, I stayed on deck. About an hour later I noticed an outline of exactly the same islands in the distance. I addressed our stewardess with a question about that vision and she replied: “I don’t really know this word in English, but the islands are not really there.” It was a mirage. That is an experience that I am not likely to encounter again in a hurry.

 Reaching one of the locks, I rushed outside with my two cameras to take some photos but when the boat started to “sink” I realized that I left one camera behind. I raced back to retrieve it by which time the boat was so far down that I had to enter it from the roof.

When the boat reached Goteborg, the Swedish passengers departed for the railway station, most of them going back for Stockholm, a journey of 3 hours. Boat trips are much slower – three days.

After a stroll through Goteborg, including a view of the concert hall, which had a list of musicians showing a virtual Slavic invasion (most of the names being either Polish or Czech.


Promenade  to a train station for a trip along the Kattegat, past Helsingborg, then by ferry to Helsingr and on to Copenhagen.


Pictures of an expedition to Copenhagen

Our last stop, before leaving Scandinavia was a very short one. I swam in the Baltic Sea unburdened by any apparel, sought out the Little Mermaid, who, unfortunately was temporarily headless, crisscrossed their beautiful parks and visited Amalienborg and Christiansburg palaces visited their Tivoli Gardens where we spent every evening of our stay in Copenhagen. How I wished I had a young person with me, even a toddler, delighting in the evening procession of regal carriages with liveried attendants. It was a real fairy-tale ending to our expedition.



The expedition is over. This is the good-bye to TROLLS and welcome back to Bunyips, Kangaroos and Beaches – and G’day to you, mate





Note A.

Scandinavia consist of Denmark, Sweden and Norway – all three are kingdoms – and all fairly left-wing politically and recently described as “the most socially advanced and the happiest societies on earth. Finland is a republic and is as well developed as the Scandinavian states-and is usually linked as a “northern” country.

Note B Heyerdahl inspired my interest in the origin and fate of the people of Easter Island and their Moai. His book Aku Aku gathered a large following, but his main thesis, stating that the people came from South America in reed boats similar to those made on Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, has been disproved by a large body of more recent scientific knowledge. However, it was an interesting story.

 Note C.

Going by latitudes – In the northern hemisphere - Tromso is on Latitude 69 North, Hammerfest has a college now joined to Tromso – also on L 69 N,  whilst Murmansk in Russia – the biggest of the towns mentioned is on L 68 N.

In the southern hemisphere – Dunedin is L 45 South, Ushuaia L 54 S

By comparison: Brisbane is on latitude 28 south. Major central European cities are around L 50 N

 The poles are at L 90 and the northernmost parts of continental Europe, Siberia (Asia) and Northern America are all on around Latitude 71 to 73 North.