Trains and Boats and Planes, and Trams, a Rickshaw and Quite a Lot of Walking
Andy Lear returns with an account of his Swedish/Norwegian/Hungarian trip
FEAR NOT - I have returned! I was a totally crap scribe and never got round to posting anything in the hope that I could amalgamate it all into a newsletter and I just never got round to doing that. Now that I have (at my own request) been fired and am no longer the official scribe, I can get back to some scribing.
Here then for the delectation of the much neglected readership is my account of the Swedish/Norwegian/Hungarian trip.
This was a trip of multiple modes of transport. I took the bus from home to get to the train station, the train to the coach station, the coach to the airport (so called ‘London Stansted’ which I am sorely tempted to report to the office of fair trading) a plane to Sweden, one of Dan’s hundreds of cars from Sweden to Norway. Other modes of transport that were taken over the trip were trams, a boat, a rickshaw and quite a lot of walking and had it not been for European interference we might well have hired a bicycle in Trondheim between eight of us but we will get there in good time.
I arrived in Stockholm on Thursday and as arranged texted Dan to let him know that the plane had touched down. To be honest I was somewhat unnerved when I got the reply ‘today???’ but it was the right day and I had to wait for all of about five minutes before Dan appeared.
We drove to the brewery and I filled a few bottles and stamped the lids on them and then popped across the road to the bar whilst Dan did whatever corporate executives do and then we drove back to his house. I had a tour of his whisky room and we sat on the veranda drinking beer admiring the beautiful view over the lake from the back of his house.
A couple of hours later Hans and Bo arrived. Dan lives next door to his brother Sam, who I first met in Seattle. Sam has a sort of cabin in his garden so we (Hans and Bo and I) spent the night in that. I had my first (and definitely last) taste of pickled herring at Sam’s house later that evening as well.
The next day we set off for Norway. We knew that booze was going to be ruinously expensive there so now that Dan owns a brewery it made sense to drive a load of beer across the border. A beautiful drive it was too, past all the lakes and trees. It took us about eight hours to arrive in Trondheim and I made use of the time to learn Swedish. The only way to really learn a language is to use it, so to the delight of my fellow passengers I pointed out (in Swedish) pretty much every tree and yellow house on the way. The GPS got a bit confused at our destination but we soon found the hotel.
There seemed to be some mad moustachioed maniac banging on the window. He (the mad moustachioed maniac, a.k.a. Rodders) came down to help unpack the crates of beer. Other people had brought various additions such as various bottles of single malt, gin, brandy and vodka, and our hotel room ‘bar 207’ (with free internet access) was ready for business. The usual suspects were there, Ronnie from Antwerp, Whiskers and Tommy Roe from Seattle, Dan, me, Rod, Ted and there were some new faces as well.
HBC member Carson and his wife from Denmark had turned up with some Danish beer of 12%. Tommy had adopted (or maybe that should be abducted) a ginger-moustached Canadian called Ewan and had arrived with a member of the Whisker Club called Jon Javor, (subsequently known as ‘the hairy fellow’) and his wife Elizabeth (collectively known as ‘The Hairy Fellows’). The Hairy Fellow, a brave and foolish American, was later to cover himself in glory in Hungary but I digress.
One of the usual suspects that was not there was Jörg who had texted his apologies but had been diagnosed with a raft of medical complaints and was engaged in trying to find a healthier second opinion. We obviously wish him well in his quest.
Saturday we went to the cathedral. I have certainly been in worse cathedrals (Guildford leaps to mind) but Trondheim appears to have missed the entire point of Gothic architecture. The point of Gothic architecture, as I understand it, is that the high vaulted roofs allowed more windows and therefore more light into the building. I may have been in worse built cathedrals but I can’t remember being in a gloomier one. The tickets that we bought also allowed us into the treasury where they keep their crown jewels and there was a Trondheim museum that we could also get into, so obviously we did.
Saturday was also the (optional) pre-judging. Rodders, Dan and some others were required for that and I had not even registered for the competition so I got that sorted out and I think it was that Saturday that I first paid ELEVEN QUID !!! for a pint of beer. We soon opened up bar 207 in the afternoon and sat about chatting.
The World Beard and Moustache Championships (which I possibly should have mentioned earlier was the reason we were in Norway in the first place) was on a Sunday. This was unusual but the Norwegians wanted us to stay until Tuesday, their National day and actually it worked out quite well. I was in my pilot’s outfit with the sticky-out scarf.
At one stage Kezza had set about my moustache trying to make it vaguely symmetrical when Jürgen Burkhardt wandered past. If there is one thing Jürgen can’t resist it is offering moustache-grooming advice, so he examined my moustache from various angles, prodded it a bit and came up with the wonderfully diplomatic expression, ‘This is a non-standard form’. This is about as close as you will ever get to hearing a German say, ‘Well you’ve totally screwed this up, haven’t you?’ He was quite right of course and I ended up with my customary last place.
After the competition we had something to eat and drink, secure in the knowledge that each of us would probably have to sell a liver and both kidneys when we returned to England to pay for it.
On Monday rather than going to the World Beard and Moustache Association meeting I decided to go shopping with Mrs. Whiskers and Mrs. Hairy Fellow. I bought some moustache curlers - that I later threw away when it became apparent that they were rubbish - and one of those sew-on patches for my suitcase. I did arrive in time to catch the last ten minutes or so of the meeting, which seemed to have taken two hours to defer a decision.
Having regrouped, we explored the sights of Trondheim, one of which was the world’s first bicycle lift. Alas it was not working and as we were standing about lamenting this, a local cyclist popped up and gave us an explanation of its inner workings. When we asked why it was not working he said it was because of an European directive. Norway is not even part of the EU! We pointed out that the French would simply have totally ignored such a directive but I’m not sure that made him feel much better about it. There was a bridge in Trondheim that the locals seemed quite proud of, for some reason, so we had a look at that before heading for the cheapest proper bar in town. It was shut so we returned to bar 207.
Tuesday was the National Day of Norway, their Constitution Day. This was the Parade our hosts wanted us to be involved in, and what a parade it was. One nautical mile long; I don’t think the streets were lined less than four rows deep on either side, sometimes up to ten rows deep. A good number of people there were in national dress, waving Norwegian flags and it was just a brilliant day. We bearded and moustached competitors seemed to be pretty high up the pecking order as well, marching right behind the army. The Trondheim curling club were still marching past when we were checking out of the hotel to take the train to Oslo.
We arrived quite late so we just went down the road to the local pizza place, which happened to be owned by Muslims as Rod discovered when he asked for a ham pizza.
After breakfast (in Oslo) on Wednesday, Ellen and Bordello, two cousins of Whiskers, arrived to show us around the town with a whistle-stop tour that would leave a coach load of Japanese tourists breathless. We started off at an ‘outdoor museum’ full of ancient Norwegian houses and a church. Then we went to see a Viking longboat and the Kon-tiki (in different museums) and then took a boat across to visit the Rat Haus (the town hall) and the national portrait gallery where the original (well the original original, I think he painted a few) version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream as well as a bunch of Manets, Monets, Degases and Van Goghs. There was some decent stuff in there as well.
Finally we went to the statue park which was full of statues of naked Norwegians, mostly piled on top of each other. By that time the weather, which had behaved pretty well up to then, took a turn for the worse and we beetled back to the hotel to get changed and then went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner.
Thursday we flew into Budapest in Hungary and had an interesting taxi ride to our hotel. Our driver was carving up his fellow road users left, right and centre yelling abuse out of the window to anyone he could. Driving through red lights whilst on his mobile phone it was a wonder we made it in one piece but make it we did, albeit with Rodders complaining about his underwear laundry bill.
My suitcase had been damaged in the flight and I could no longer retract the handle which was a bit of an annoyance so Rod, Ted and I went into the centre of town to get some money, try and find a screwdriver but most importantly have a sensibly-priced beer. We failed on the screwdriver front and Rod shot back to the hotel to meet up with The Hairy Fellows who had hired a car and were going to pick up Whiskers and Mrs Whiskers from the airport but The Hairy Fellows' phone didn’t work. The entire plan failed and returning to the hotel in a rickshaw which we found on the Chain Bridge, the rickshaw driver advised that there was a more than serviceable bar quite close to the hotel so that’s where we went.
Not much later we met one of our Hungarian hosts Peter Szilagyi (Peter 1), who is President of the Hungarian Club, who took us on a mountaineering trip up to the castle (without the benefit of oxygen tents) and then on to a restaurant for some genuine Hungarian fare. It turns out that we had a mutual interest in wine and sampled a good amount of it.
Peter 1 had to work on Friday, so he placed us in the capable hands of Peter Csepin (Peter 2) who was a full-on Hungarian hussar. He was known for his horse riding escapades having ridden huge distances on trips that took up to eight months in full hussar uniform. He also took us up to the castle but this time we took the lift so no one needed to die of apoplexy.
We also visited the cathedral, which was at the top of the hill, and then the womenfolk went shopping and the men were taken to a Turkish bath. I had never been in such an establishment before. We were given backless loincloths and there was a big central pool and various minor pools with the water at different temperatures. Apparently some days are men only, some women only and some mixed. Regrettably Friday was a men only day. Later in the evening Rodders was reading up on the place in the guidebook. It said that there were alleged health benefits to be gained from drinking the radioactive water!
After the baths we picked up the womenfolk and had a few beers before Rod, Ted and I took the train to our ultimate (and unpronounceable and unspellable) (Kiskunfélegyháza - Ed) destination whilst Whiskers and Mrs. Whiskers went with the hairy fellows in their hire car. The car was much faster than the train for some reason so The Hairy Fellow kindly picked us up from the station and drove us back to the hotel. Not wanting to walk an inch more than we already had, we found a restaurant across the road where we ate and drank until we were chucked out.
Saturday was the competition but it was not until the afternoon. In the morning we started off at a very cheap bar (A round of 12 white wine and soda waters cost about three quid). The Hairy Fellow mentioned that he was of Hungarian extraction so I suggested that he had his head shaved leaving just a tuft at the top like the hussars. To my surprise he did not instantly dismiss the idea but said that he would only countenance it if he were to have the appropriate attire.
Within minutes, trousers, jerkins, jackets and all the necessary had materialised and an impromptu barber's shop set up outside the bar with documentary film-makers documenting the event and the musicians providing the sound track.
Leaving the newly blood-stained pavement we headed off to the area where the competition was to be held. We expected Mrs. Hairy Fellow (who we had deliberately kept well away from the proceedings) to go ballistic but she seemed quite amused by it all when he turned up.
For the competition itself I didn’t bother putting on my costume because it was so hot and just entered in a T-shirt. I wiggled my moustache in a flirtatious manner at two of the more attractive judges (something that in the past has pretty much guaranteed last place). My moustache was asymmetric (or as had been pointed out by Jürgen of a ‘non standard form’) so I was confidently predicting my normal last place.
There were eights there, and eight point fives. I think there might even have been a nine! To my amazement I came third and won a candle-holder. Peter 1 was the compère of the event and did announce me as a wine expert, which might not have done my chances any harm. However I believe the real reason for this extreme aberration was that I was getting on pretty well with the hussars and when I went on stage they were showing their support by waving swords, maces and even what looked like an ice pick! I believe that the judges took the view that a dozen or so half-cut, weapon-waving hussars went a long way to cancelling out the ‘non standard form’ of my moustache.
Sunday was going home day. I had taken my suitcase handle off entirely, so it did not get broken by BA, so rather than dragging it to the station I got a lift all the way to Budapest airport with the Hairy Fellows. We chatted for a while before they had to catch their flight to Oslo but they were flying back to Seattle via Reykjavik in Iceland. Rod and Ted arrived soon after. The flight back was without incident and Dame Judy picked us up at Heathrow. When asked what the news was she informed us that there was another volcanic ash debacle in Iceland. I hope the Hairy Fellows managed to escape but for all I know they are still there.