Flashpacker

Travel 2009-04-04 04:40

Aparently, I am a flashpacker.

Scandinavia, Wrap-up

Travel 2009-03-01 11:13

My last two days in Norway were spent in Voss and Bergen, both rather unremarkable towns from my brief inspection. Voss had a forest campground abutting the fjord waters, which might be interesting to camp in. And there are worse places to kill a day hacking and catching up on email than Bergen.
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Scandinavia, Day 9: Borgund

Travel 2009-02-27 02:03

The viking age ended when the Norse people became part of Christendom. Since they no longer could build intimidating warships to go on raids of Christian monasteries, they turned to building churches. In this period they built in a style known as the stave church.

Like their other works, stave churches were built entirely of wood (a plentiful resource in the northlands). Some survive to this day - since they were in active use for the past 800 years, they were maintained against the damaging effects of age. Today I visited perhaps the most visually interesting one, the Borgund stave church.

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Scandinavia, Day 8: Flåm

Travel 2009-02-26 03:28

A fjord is the wake of an ancient glacier. During the last ice age, glaciers crawled across most of Scandinavia, especially Norway. The resulting geography is a rugged and breathtakingly beautiful landscape of these deep fissures which cut across the country.

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Scandinavia, Day 7: Hemsedal

Travel 2009-02-24 05:26

Today, I snowboarded Norway.

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Scandinavia, Day 6: Oslo

Travel 2009-02-23 01:33

When I arrived in Denmark, I thought to myself: now this is the northlands. Steadily falling snow, a fine white powder icing every surface, pine trees, a deep chill in the air.

Today, as my flight today broke through the clouds above Norway, I realized I was wrong before. A true winter wonderland had unfolded before me: snow a meter deep on every surface; dense stands of pine trees half-buried in snowdrifts; a rugged landscape of mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, and fjords; and blowing snowstorms (”whiteouts”). Now this is the northlands.

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Scandinavia, Day 5: Viking Ruins

Travel 2009-02-22 04:20

Scandinavia is densely wooded with hardwood forests. This was a major impediment to farming, but the upside was an unlimited supply of timber for building structures: longhouses, forts, and ships.

But the downside of wood construction, for modern-day scholars, is that wood decomposes. So there is very little left of viking-age settlements. The best we can do, in most cases, is to guess the construction of structures based on impressions left in the ground by the wood which has long since rotted away.
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Scandinavia, Day 4: Jelling

Travel 2009-02-21 03:32

The Norse runic alphabet is not a language, but rather a character set - meaning, a set of symbols which map to sounds. You can render any language in runes, the same way that English is normally rendered in the Latin character set, or Russian in Cyrillic, or Japanese in Kanji or Katankana.

The nordic peoples did not write books, letters, or personal journals in runes. They believed that runes had magic properties, and thus were used only for ceremonial purposes - typically imbuing the engraved objects with special powers. For example, writing “Bloodseeker” on the blade of a sword to make it a magic blade. Contrast with most other writing systems, which typically are created first as a tool for practical purposes, and only later used ceremonially. (The oldest written documents we’ve found, cuneiform tablets by the Sumerians, are what today we would call receipts.)

The best surviving examples we have of runic text are on runestones. Runestones are stone markers set at gravesites or at the head of stone ships (more on that later) to commemorate great people or deeds. Runestones have been discovered all over Scandinavia, though most are badly eroded and often broken.

Perhaps the most noted all of runestones are the two large stones at Jelling, Denmark, which I visited today.

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Scandinavia, Day 3: Roskilde

Travel 2009-02-20 02:22

The viking longship was a very advanced technology in its day. It was a primary reason that the Norse peoples dominated the northern seas for the 400 years or so prior to the Crusades. The longship’s extremely shallow draught meant that it could travel up rivers to assault inland cities not prepared for navel attack; and it could also navigate the open sea. It could be powered by sail or by oar, and it had prows on either end, so it could retreat without turning around.

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Scandinavia, Day 2: København

Travel 2009-02-19 05:31

The airport was busy with travelers going to and from their destinations, as all airports are. But the place was strangely quiet; people’s voices seemed hushed, like in a library. It seems the Danes are naturally soft-spoken.

The girl who sold me my train ticket into town was stunningly beautiful. Perfectly smooth milk-white skin, white-gold hair swept back from her delicate high cheekbones, glacier-blue eyes, slender figure. In the US, she’d be a model. In Denmark, she’s selling train tickets.
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