On the road again

Some of you knew this already, but others don’t – I’m on the road again. Part One of my trip was a new place for me –Oslo. Lately, the “getting there” part also seems to be part of the adventure. I guess my “trouble-free travel” kharma has finally worn out, b/c for the third time in 3 trips, I’ve had delays and missed connections.

I traveled through Paris, with a 4-hour layover in the airport. Not enough time to really go anywhere, I wandered around the airport. Despite Paris’ glamorous reputation, I have to say, the airport itself is underwhelming. The terminal I arrived in was kinda fancy, but my departure terminal was disorganized, gritty, and generally glamour free. Since I had once again forgotten to take a watch with me on the trip, I killed a little bit of time buying myself a cool kid’s Swatch that I’m in love with.

I arrived in Oslo around 10pm, well after my scheduled 330pm arrival. It seems that Oslo was in the middle of a record snowfall, although I never did find out how much – a lot. It snowed non-stop with varying intensity for the first three and a half days of my stay. This was fine and certainly made for a beautiful snowy visit. After finding out that a cab to my hotel would cost well over $100, I reconciled myself to figuring out the public transportation system, which turned out to be pretty easy. Now, dragging one’s roller suitcase over many inches of new snow and ice chunks, that’s challenging. Luckily, there was only a bit of that.

Appropriately enough, I was booked at the budget Hotel Munch, as in the artist. This hotel is in downtown Oslo and was a great location for walking. For that matter, Oslo is a good town to walk about, even in the dead of winter. Well, during daylight hours if you want to go into anything. Oh, and not on Sundays, unless you don’t mind pretty much everything being closed. That said, I had a great time walking around, window-shopping, taking in the sights, stopping for scrumptious hot chocolates and pastries whenever I was thoroughly frozen. Oslo is your typical Scandinavian city, in my somewhat limited experience, very clean, organized, sensible, and heavily English-speaking. I appreciated the latter, because, I was really only able to figure out every fourth or fifth word of Norwegian. Even for the tiny minority that didn’t really speak English, they understood me no matter what I wanted.

I was there to attend a meeting of the Arctic Council’s “Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment” Working Group. There’s a long-ish story behind this, but suffice it to say, that a coworker and I were there on a bit of an experiment to try to determine what, if any, role Pacific Environment could play in the AC. Most of this Council’s meetings are in remote Arctic locations, frequently above the Arctic Circle proper, so I was thankful that this one was relatively accessible. Our participation was inconclusive, and aside from networking in the hallways, we didn’t really find a niche. There’s two more of these to attend this year, so time will tell.

Brutal and unanticipated jet lag meant that I spent the whole week trying to get by on 3-4 hours of sleep/day. Not fun, especially since I’ve been off caffeine for months now. I finally collapsed on Saturday and gave myself the guilty gift of sleeping from 8-3pm that day, instead of sightseeing. Too bad since that was my only chance, but I did make a quick run through the National Gallery (great early 20th century collection (including “The Scream” of course and free to boot!), and walk around some more downtown. I was crushed, simply crushed, to come across a yarn store only minutes after it closed, but for the horse lovers out there, I browsed a great tack store that was fully stocked with every thing a Warmblood owner or Mountain Horse brand fan could want.

On Sunday morning, I boarded my Aeroflot flight to Moscow, which, as always, proved to be of some interest. Not sure why, but most of the flight consisted of non-Russians and non-Europeans. 3-4 Armenians or Azeris (I think) in the row in front of me drank over a liter of cognac in the row in front of me during a 2-hour flight. I was thankful that they were happy drunks. Otherwise, there were a lot of Middle Easterners and women dressed in sarees and their families heading somewhere else. There were a few Iraq-bound folks in my row. The woman in a saree next to me either was confused or had very weak hands, because I had to adjust her seatbelt and open all of her meal packaging for her. She never spoke and rarely made eye contact, but after I initiated fixing her seatbelt for her, she subsequently wordlessly handed me other stuff she wanted help with, one piece at a time.

In Moscow, I had a very dull 7-hour connection, involving only a 30-minute transfer between terminals. Not enough time to head downtown, I hung out at the very busy airport, people-watching, eating, and standing in line. For such a high-volume airport (by Russian standards, at least) you’d think they’d organize it better. There are 3 doorways (just wide enough for one human being with small luggage) through which ALL travelers on ALL domestic flights must pass. People just jam up like bleating sheep and push their way through. The city of Moscow and the airlines have been negotiating building a new terminal for at least 3-4 years now, but can’t agree on various details, so for now, this is how it is. Anyhow, I was off to Barnaul, in Altai, where you may recall I was last July. My flight on a Tupelov 154 (aka flying shoebox, 6 seats across) was packed to the gills with at least 25 6-7 year old girls returning from a field trip in Moscow with their teachers. They really did seem that young. They were tired but well-behaved. Thankfully.

I guess that’s all for now. I’ll write more about Barnaul later. I head to Tomsk (5-6 hours drive northwest of here) for the weekend, then back to Barnaul.


PS. Oh, and I misplaced my camera during the Oslo portion of the trip. Most annoying, but I found it now.