OSLO, NORWAY — A 1969 romantic comedy with almost the same title as this headline (should be Tuesday instead of Wednesday), humorously depicts the whirlwind nature of European travel itineraries.
Never having been this far north, we opted to tack on an Atlantic coast week of travel to our customary two weeks in Denmark, where we visit our son Stanley Adam and his family, in July.
We wanted to see Norway, to view the fjords, to take in the majestic mountains and waterfalls and, especially to visit the Olso Opera House and other cultural sites, where names like playwright Henrik Ibsen, composer Edvard Grieg and artist Edvard Munch (The Scream) became famous. True, we knew the itinerary ahead of time, but we didn’t snap that a mere six hours in this magnificent city just doesn’t cut it.
Here’s what happened:
Our schedule was to visit Norwegian cities like Bergen and Stavanger, take in the sites, see an iron-age farm up close, watch the making of Norwegian goat cheese, and of course, to sample the varieties of fish this extreme northern city offers.
True, we got a smattering of all the above, but most of the photos we took were shot through the windows of a huge tour bus we rode, and the most common command seemed to be something like, “We’re going to tour this Oslo cathedral, and we’ll see you back in the bus in 20 minutes.”
Twenty minutes? That’s not even enough time for a potty break, which by the way, costs about $1.75 American, in some locations.
Though it may seem otherwise, this column isn’t intended to discourage travel but merely to express our conviction that most tours, in the final analysis, are about the same — rushed.
Oslo in just a few hours became so because, well, that’s how it was scheduled. The cruise ship signed up several hundred pilgrims to explore the “real” Oslo. We expected more, in a city that currently is claimed to be the world’s most expensive and which fluctuates among the top five world cities, including Tokyo, London, Copenhagen, Paris, Zurich and Geneva.
The plan was for each of the 13 large buses, equipped with a guide who speaks Italian plus whatever language most of the voyagers understand, to leave at 15-minute intervals. That way, the various bi- and tri-lingual guides won’t find themselves in a metropolitan Tower of Babel.
But they did. The first bus underwent a long delay, with the following buses leaving on schedule and all arriving at about the same time, in a square whose narrow pathways barely allowed people to squeeze through. It’s tough to tune in on the French tour guide (that’s the closest I got to English or Spanish) who’s 50 yards away being drowned out by a German speaker.
The cacophonous presentations on Oslo took on the ambiance of a political rally.
But that didn’t last too long, as it was now time for our guide to holler, “Back in the bus in five minutes.”
Whereas many cruise lines, especially those that travel on rivers, include side trips, ports of call, our cruise line did not. Accordingly, we signed up — for a fee — for a few trips, one of which featured a demonstration on that Norwegian goat cheese mentioned above.
What we saw was a bored young girl periodically immersing a wooden spoon into a kettle of warm milk that was magically to become cheese. Having married a farm girl, I’ve seen much more animation and enthusiasm as my mother-in-law, Velma, did the same thing at the farm in Springer.
The Iron Age farm extravaganza consisted of groups of 30 tourists huddled in a dark room, watching a fire fizzle out. That fire, “was much like the fires our ancestors built on this exact same spot, many years ago,” we were told.
And finally, our middle names have to be “Ecumenical,” our having toured countless churches throughout Western Europe. A school tour to Spain back in 2002 took us to several Roman Catholic cathedrals where, blessedly, we were allowed to take non-flash photos before hearing, “Back to the bus in 10 minutes.”
Copenhagen, with its hundreds of Lutheran churches, has different policies: Flash is allowed, as is moderate conversation. The cathedral we toured in Norway requested only that gentlemen remove their hats. All churches, it seems, have a gift shop on the premises and a number of places to deposit spare change.
Heidelberg, a beautiful university city in Germany, has impressed me the most. The city has done much to restore itself to its medieval grandeur and to repair damage wrought by the ravages of time and of wars.
But the disturbing element, to us, was the totally touristy nature of Heidelberg, where from a distance we could see perhaps 50 tour buses inching their way up the hill to the university.
On the grounds of the school and the adjoining church, locals hawked water, postcards, souvenirs and booklets featuring tours. Where was the decorum? Some of the tourists treated the grounds of Heidelberg University as a medieval Disneyland.
We’ve all heard complaints about how things get sour when they become too touristy. To be candid, as a traveler, I’m part of the problem. I confess.
So, go ahead and plan your summer travel, but when you get there, don’t be too surprised if you encounter another tourist — or thousands. And be sure to get back to the bus on time.
• • •
Our clear indication that we were never really far from home came as we sat in a crowded ice cream shop and overheard local youths engaged in American-speak. No Norwegian spoken here.
We asked for the Internet cafe’s password, and a couple joined in with something like, “Like, just type in ‘SuperDeli’ and you’re like there, ya know.”
And indeed, like, we were.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.