Thursday, June 07, 2007

In Oslo

11:50 p.m. June 3 (Sunday)
Soria Moria Hotel
Voksenkollveien, Oslo

I arrived in Oslo yesterday (Saturday) via Munich, Germany, at 5:30 in the afternoon local time. From Moscow I got off the plane in Munich, pass through the EU immigration check and transferred to a smaller plane to Oslo. Travel time to Munich from Moscow took almost three hours, from Munich to Oslo was over two hours. I was surprised that there was no immigration check anymore in Oslo. So that's what being part of the EU all about.

I had to change US$100 to the local currency (kroner) at an automated machine outside the airport terminal. The exchange rate was $1 to 5 kroner. I then look for a map and asked for direction from the information kiosk. I was worried, I don't know a thing about Oslo and there was nobody to meet me because it was a weekend. I asked where the taxi stand is. The man at the counter asked me where I was going. When I mentioned the name of the hotel, Slottsparken Thon Hotel, the man said it's in the center of the city and it's about 50 kilometers away from the airport. I asked if I could take a taxi, he said it's up to me because it's very expensive. He suggested that I would take the bus, adding that the last stop of the bus is just across my hotel.

I followed his advise and enjoyed the one-hour bus ride to the hotel. The bus driver pointed the hotel to me when I got down and I checked in. It was a traditional European hotel, with no soap, no toothbrush, etc, nothing at all in the toilet. Nada! Nothing. I picked up my camera, left my things and decided to discover the city. In front of my hotel was a park. I went through the park, under the trees and was surprised to come out before a huge building, with a statue of a man on horseback in the courtyard and a flag flying over the top of the building. I later found out from a map I obtained from the hotel reception that I was in front of the Royal Palace, the king's palace.

In front of the palace was an avenue that extends out into the city. Along the street were beautiful structures. I started walking, it was already past 9 p.m. but the sun was still up like the three o'clock sun back in Manila. I passed by the Oslo University, the National Theater, the parliament building, the national cathedral, which unfortunately closed for renovation until 2009, then I reached the central station. In the streets were people, young people, old people, drinking, eating, enjoying the sun. I later learned that it was the real first day of summer in Oslo because it rained the whole time in the past days. The weather was also pleasant at 18 degrees centigrade.

There was a music festival so free concerts were in almost all street corners. I also learned later that the whole thing was sponsored by the city government. I had dinner past 10 p.m. at Burger King then started walking back to my hotel while enjoying the street performances on the street - poetry reading, violen, opera, bands, the whole lot. I also enjoyed watching at the girls with their shorts and tank tops as they walk the streets or lie on the grass beside the street and at the park. It was getting cold when I reached the hotel, the temperature was most likely below 15 degrees. I just crawled under my comforter and I went to sleep. It was past 12 in the morning and there was still light.

I woke up early in the morning at eight o'clock, had a very European breakfast at the restaurant downstairs and walked to the park. I saw some Filipino women, maybe on their way to church. I just stroll around the Royal Palace and went back to my hotel to meet the Elisabeth of the Norwegian Foreign ministry who would bring me to the Soria Moria. We met at the lobby at 11:30 and drove me up to this place, Voksenkollveien, up on the hill, overlooking the city. It took us about half an hour to reach the place, supposedly a district where the rich and the very rich of Oslo live.

After checking in and resting, Elisabeth said she would be going back to the city to finish some preparations at the ministry. I asked to hitch a ride to the city. So I ended up walking around the other part of the city, the harbor. I went around the old fortress of Oslo. I decided not to go in although there was a festival for children because I saw that people were paying to enter the gates. I just strolled around and started looking for the famous garden of naked sculptures in various sexual positions. I failed to find it after Elisabeth made a call to inform me if I wanted to go back to the hotel already. We reached the hotel at 4 p.m. and had a meeting with one of the founders of Al Jazeera and participants from Afghanistan.

The head of the International PEN's section on the protection of writers arrived to fetch the Afghans, leaving me and the 70-year-old Christian Arab Al Jazeera executive. He asked if I have been to the city. I said yes and asked him if he wanted me to go with him there and be his guide. We walked through the woods for almost ten minutes to a train station and went to the city. We each had a glass of beer and I toured him around city. We went back past 9 p.m. and had a very tiring walk up the hill to the hotel. We decided to have dinner at the restaurant. It was a formal dinner. Imagine how hard I tried, and I believe I passed with flying colors, to hold my fork on my left hand and the knife on the right the whole time, European style.

Well, that's my day, it's 12:30 in the morning of Monday and I have to wake up early for tomorrow's meeting where I will be chairing one of the sessions. God, I'm just so tired.

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