Oslo

It has been a long time since I last practiced written English here. So I’m switching from French to English to tell about my last trip to Oslo.

The Norwegian capital is a short two hours flight from Paris. The airport is located in a valley that was hidden under a thick blanket of fog. The trains to the city are fast, even the slower ones, and half an hour is all it takes to reach the sunbathed fjord of Oslo.

The first afternoon of our stay was really sunny. The light was quite unusual as it felt like an ending afternoon at 2pm. The sun stayed always low on the horizon but the days weren’t much shorter than in Paris despite the 11° difference in latitude. Perfect weather for a walk on the seafront.

Oslo harbour

In the back of the harbour stands the 1950s city hall, a huge red brick building with its very recognizable two towers.

Oslo City Hall

Oslo seafront undergoes massive reconstruction to be more appealing to both residents and visitors. One part around the Fearnley-Astrup museum is finished in a very modern style, with high standard condos, offices, cafés and restaurants. It faces the old citadel, the only really old sight in Oslo. The citadel is surrounded by docks for cruise ships and long distance ferries to Denmark.

Oslo cruise ship and citadel

Oslo modern buildings

In front of the Fearnley-Astrup museum, which is a contemporary art museum, stands the same sculpture as at the Louisiana in Denmark (last picture of this 2010 article).

The eyes

This modern neighborhood is not very lively, too clean and new, but with very interesting architecture.

Oslo modern buildings

Oslo modern buildings

Oslo modern buildings

Oslo modern buildings

Oslo modern buildings

The industrial harbour facing the neighborhood awaits to be transformed too.

Oslo harbour and cranes

Around the citadel, it has another atmosphere. Everything is not as clean where the cruise ship is anchored. Crowds of cyclists are going back on the ship. A bit further, people are fishing and the smells get closer to those of what you might expect from a harbour.

Oslo Akershus citadel

The entrance of Oslo harbour is marked by a very small lighthouse.

Kavringen lighthouse

East of the citadel, another part of the seafront has been totally transformed by the construction of the new opera. Like Sydney or Copenhagen, Oslo fancies its opera surrounded by water and wishes it will become a distinctive landmark.

Oslo opera

The opera roof is walkable to the top. It offers a view toward the city center, beyond which the ski jump tower of Holmenkollen is visible.

Oslo by night

Between the opera and the central train station, a new neighborhood has emerged. It seems to be mostly offices and hotels.

Oslo, next to central station and opera by night

Oslo opera

This dream weather couldn’t last and we spent the following days mainly in museums, as far as their short opening times permitted it. By far the most interesting is the Fram museum. The museum focuses on the polar expeditions led by Norway at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

Next to the museum, a monument pictures Roald Amundsen and his crew who were the first to reach the south pole on the 14th of December 1911.

South pole monument

Inside the museum are 2 ships: the Gjøa which is the first ship to have sailed the northwest passage and the Fram which was built to support sea ice pressure and was freezed in an attempt to float through the north pole.

Gjøa

Then we walked back towards the center crossing the Frogner park. The park is mostly known for its hundreds of Gustav Vigeland sculptures of naked bodies.

Vigeland park

In the center of the park stands a column made of 121 human bodies sculpted in a single 17m high stone and thus called the monolith.

Vigeland's monolith

The other sculptures are no less strange.

Vigeland sculpture around the monolith

Vigeland sculpture

Vigeland sculpture

The Frogner park is less than half an hour walk from the center, so we went on hoping to cross the royal palace gardens. But those are only open to public from june to august. Anyway the palace itself is not outstanding.

Oslo royal palace

Not far from there, the university as the same classical architecture.

Oslo university

On the following day, we visited the Munch museum which had an interesting exhibit showing the parallel works of Edvard Munch and Gustav Vigeland. And then we went to the National Gallery to see more of Munch work, including its most famous painting: the scream.

The weather went a bit better on the last day of our stay. We took the subway to Holmenkollen which unfortunately stayed hidden in a heavy fog. The subway is actually underground only in the center and then rides slowly uphill in the residential neighborhoods and a bit of forest.

Holmenkollen

The 360° view over the city and the fjord is supposed to be amazing.

Holmenkollen ski jump tower

The ski museum was very interesting, despite what our guidebook said about it.

When we came back to the center, the fog was up and Holmenkollen was perfectly visible from the citadel.

Holmenkollen from Oslo citadel

But just enough time remained for a short walk before heading to the airport. From the citadel, the new neighborhood we walked through the first day on the other side of the harbour has a nice look under the ever low October sun. The building shaped as a sail is the Fearnley-Astrup museum.

Fearnley-Astrup museum

Oslo harbour

We had a last look to the Opera, by daylight this time, before catching a train to the airport.

Oslo Opera

 

Publicités

Wandering around in North Rhine-Westphalia

Only 3 hours away from Paris with the Thalys is a corner of Germany I did not have the opportunity to explore until now. So I packed for a one week trip through the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, or at least through a few of its prominent cities outside of the Rhur area.

I made a selection, but there are still 58 pictures in this article.

Cologne

My first stop was Cologne. I arrived right after the carnival and the city was still cleaning itself from its joyfully messy festivities. Sticky streets and broken glass bottles everywhere.

First thing you can’t miss arriving in Cologne is the enormous Gothic cathedral which stands right outside the main station. As soon as the morning fog started to fade away, I climbed the many stairs of the south tower. Looking towards East, on the left of the cathedral roof you can see a part of the train station and the rails crossing the Rhine on the Hohenzollern bridge. On the right is the Ludwig Museum, a museum of modern art.

Hohenzollern bridge from Cologne cathedral

Looking south is the recognizable shape of the Groß Sankt Martin Church, surrounded by the older part of town.

Gross Sankt Martin am Fischmarkt

The center has been bombed flat during WWII and calling a part of it « old » is always exaggerated. Some parts have been reconstructed identical, but most of the center is now a modern city which makes the two main pedestrian streets look like a shopping mall.

Cologne center seen from the cathedral

Looking West is the new neighborhood of mediapark with its lonely skyscraper and the TV tower Colonius.

Colonius and Mediapark seen from Cologne cathedral

The city hall has a very nice old octagonal tower from the XVth century, rebuilt after the war.

Cologne Rathaus tower

The city center was surrounded by a series of walls from the Roman and medieval eras. Some little hints remain like the gate of the Rudolf Platz. The carnival obviously went through it.

Rudolf Platz gate

The Mediapark area is  a modern corner of the city. It looks like the cathedral is not far and is reflecting on the glass building, but it’s only a clever painting.

Cologne mediapark

On my way back to the center, I stumbled upon this strange sculpture of a golden car with wings. Even if there are bicycles everywhere, cars are still at the center of German culture.

Cologne flying car

The Hohenzollern bridge is a popular walk for both locals and tourists and is full of love locks. From there you overlook the Rhine riverside which is a pleasant promenade too.

Gross Sankt Martin and crane buildings in Cologne

The bridge leads to the Deutz neighborhood which offers the nicest views on the city skyline. You can recognize from previous pictures from left to right: the city hall tower, the Groß Sankt Martin, Colonius and the cathedral.

Cologne Skyline

The cathedral main facade is at its best before sunset, when the golden light softens the very dark stones.

Cologne cathedral West facade

I was hosted by a really friendly couple of travelers. They were back from a 2 years bicycle trip from Europe to New-Zealand and had plenty of stories to tell. They let me borrow one of their old bike the next day so I could tour the city parks that form a green belt around Cologne, as well as the Rhine riverside.

Cologne bicycle signs

The green belt stretches especially in the South and West of the city  and there are nice forests and ponds there. I cycled back to the center through the Colonius and Mediapark area.

Colonius and the Gazelle bicycle

Then I visited the chocolate museum and followed the Rhine several kilometers upstream before riding back. It was a really pleasant journey through the modern harbor area and also along the beach.

Cologne crane buildings

The Rhine South of Cologne

Here is a quick map of my bicycle ride in the surroundings of Cologne.

Bonn

The next day I left for Bonn, former capital city of the Federal Republic of Germany. The train ride between Cologne and Bonn is only 17 minutes.

Bonn is a lot smaller than Cologne and has a very different atmosphere. It looks richer with a lot of big houses and its center is really compact around 3 pleasant squares.

I walked West to the Poppelsdorf castle and its nice botanic garden. It was still early to find much interest in the botanic garden even if the weather was again very sunny and warm enough, but the place is really pleasant and peaceful.

Poppelsdorf

I went on to the West up to the hill of the Kreuzberg Kirche. A baroque church with strange stairs inside instead of the usual flat interior.

Inside Kreuzberg Kirche

Kreuzberg Kirche

I expected more views towards the city center from this hill, but the forest is too dense for that.

On the way back to town I stopped in the very interesting Landesmuseum. It hosted an exhibit of old photographs and I already saw part of it because they were borrowed from the Albert Khan museum in Boulogne. I liked the modern building with its wood and glass facade.

Bonn Rheinishes Landesmuseum

The most well-known kid from Bonn is the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. There are several statues of him scattered around the city. I didn’t visit his birthplace house but it seemed to be what tourists usually do because, without asking anything, that’s the only thing that the tourist office pointed out on the city map I took.

Bonn Postamt and Beethoven statue

I don’t know exactly the difference between a Dom and a Münster. But the main church in Bonn is a Münster, not a Dom (cathedral) like in Cologne.

Bonn Münster

The most prominent building in Bonn is the university which is right in the center too. You can spot the Münster tower on the left.

Bonn university

The Rhine is also flowing through Bonn and the city stretches along it on several kilometers. In the southern part of the city are the two skyscrapers from the Post and UN and on the left you can barely distinguish the first hills of the romantic Rhine.

The Rhine in Bonn

Among the center’s squares, the one in front of the city hall was one of the most pleasant.

Bonn Rathaus

Street in Bonn center

I met my hosts in Bonn in the evening and we had a delicious dinner together. As it was the beginning of a very sunny weekend, we decided to go for a bike tour the next day along the Rhine and the Ahr valley.

South of Bonn starts the romantic part of the Rhine. Surrounded with hills and cliffs on each sides, sometimes topped with a ruin , the river flows in a sinuous way. Above the village of Königswinter are the ruins of Drachenfels and on the left the XIXth century castle Drachenburg.

Drachenfels from Königswinter

Then we crossed the village of Unkel which has nice timbered houses.

A street in Unkel

On the other bank is the Appolinaris Kirsche. As you can see, the traffic stays busy on the Rhine.

Appolinaris Kirche

A few kilometers further, we crossed a second village with timbered houses called Erpel. From there we crossed the Rhine to Remagen.

House in Erpel

We crossed the Rhine on a ferry because the bridge that once linked both villages collapsed at the end of WWII and had never been rebuilt. I had never heard about this bridge before but I just saw the movie Monuments Men and there is a short passage in Remagen where you can spot the bridge in the background.

Under the cliffs of the Erpeler Ley you can still see today the piles of the bridge.

Erpeler Ley and remains of the Remagen Bridge

From Remagen we rode up the Ahr valley until the very well preserved village of Ahrweiler which reminded me a lot the wine route in Alsace. There were many tourists enjoying like us ice creams in the sun (first ice cream of the year), and buying also wine because the Ahr valley (Ahrtal) is also locally called red wine valley (Rotweintal).

Ahrweiler gate

Street in Ahrweiler

House with teapot in Ahrweiler

Bakers sign in Ahrweiler

After the village, the valley was getting narrower and we finally saw the vineyards, very impressively stacked against the steep hills.

Ahrtal vineyards

The bicycle path followed an old railway tunnel and we stopped right after it in Mayschoß.

Here is a map of the ride.

We went back to Bonn by train and after leaving my hosts I took another train to Düsseldorf in the evening, only one hour away.

Düsseldorf

The capital of the Land North Rhine-Westphalia was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t really on my route when I first thought about this trip in Germany but I don’t regret visiting this vibrant city.

I met my host upon arrival there and we went for a tour (on bikes again) to see what Düsseldorf had to offer on a Saturday night. I tried to take night pictures, but it was difficult to maintain focus. So here is the one that is okay. On the other side, the TV tower (Rheinturm)  has lights that make a giant clock, supposedly the largest digital clock in the world.

Ddorf TV tower and Gehry building at night

After this first glimpse of the city we went on with what we can call a pub crawl in the Altstadt.

Sunday was the hottest day of this week in Germany, over 20°C. So I toured the city on the bike I borrowed from my host and he accompanied me for some time.

The Altstadt has some old buildings and a very lively pedestrian area.

Twisted church in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf rathaus

South of the Altstadt is the modern neighborhood called the Media Harbor. And in between stands the Rheinturm. I went on the observation deck, 168m high, which gives very impressive views over the city. You can guess how great the weather was by the number of people lying in the grass.

Düsseldorf centre form Rheinturm

On the other side is the Media Harbor.

Media harbor from Rheinturm

This part of the city as really outstanding buildings and I enjoyed riding around the area.

Roggendorf-Haus

The most famous buildings are the three dancing houses by architect Frank Gehry.

Rheinturm and Gehry buildings

The « city gate » is also a very modern trapeze shaped building with a very large atrium which allows you to see through it.

Düsseldorfer Stadttor

The most famous street of Düsseldorf is the Königs Allee, or Kö, because of its luxury shops. I didn’t really like it despite the canal in its center that makes it a nice walk. But there are here also some interesting new buildings.

New building at the northern end of the Kö

Later that day we rode to the remote Kiefern Strasse in which every single building is painted, making the all street a piece of art. A nice dicovery I wouldn’t have done without my host to show me the way.

Riding policeman in Kiefern Strasse

Crosswords in Kiefern Strasse

Then we had dinner in a typical Düsseldorfer Brauhaus. Perhaps the most german meal I had this week.

The next morning I left for the next and last city of this trip: Aachen, more well-known for French people under the name Aix-la-Chapelle.

Aachen

Aachen looks very different from the cities along the Rhine. Here, there is no river to open the city and the center is really compact with winding streets and a bit hilly because it lies at the northern limit of the Eifel mountains. So this makes the city a bit disorientating.

A street in Aachen

The main sight in Aachen is its cathedral. Charlemagne built an octagonal basilica first and over the centuries there were additions that make the cathedral a very unique building today.

Aachen cathedral

The building is really worth a visit. It is an important pilgrimage destination in Germany and there are a few relics like clothes from the Christ and the Virgin and also the throne of Charlemagne made from marble stones from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. So that makes a lot of priceless holy items. The cathedral experienced major restorations since the 80s and is now splendid for celebrating Charlemagne’s death 1200th anniversary this year.

The city hall is also an interesting building adapted from the medieval castle.

Back of the city hall of Aachen

At a corner of the city hall there is still a medieval inn, the Postwagen.

Medieval inn and Aachen Rathaus

From its fortifications, Aachen has still a couple of standing gates.

Aachen gate

The theater looks like a Greek temple.

Aachen theater

I walked all day around the center and went up on the Lousberg, a small hill north of the city center. This is the only place where you have a view over the city. You can see the city hall with the cathedral behind it and the gate a bit left in the back.

Aachen from the Lousberg

Church on the Lousberg

I met my host, an enthusiastic new couchsurfer, in the evening and we had diner out with friends. I didn’t pay attention to that during the day, but next to the Elisenbrunnen fountain, one  of the most prominent sign of the thermal activity in Aachen, it doesn’t smell good because of the sulfur concentration of the water.

The last day of my trip, I decided to go for a hike outside of Aachen (I bought a hiking map earlier in Cologne while spending too much time  in the giant outdoor shop Globetrotter). Despite its 240 000 inhabitants, Aachen is really compact and you are pretty quickly in the forest.

I walked for two hours until I reached the Dreiländereck: the border point between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Unfortunately it was foggy and I didn’t had any views over the city in the morning.

Dreiländereck

I also reached another impressive landmark, located just 50m away: the highest point of the Netherlands (at least continental Netherlands). That’s 322.5m high, so you imagine how tough it was to climb up there.

Netherland highest point

Otherwise, the hike was mostly in the forest, with at some point a TV tower that emerged suddenly out of the trees like a giant UFO. It seems german have a thing for TV towers. By the way, Düsseldorf Rheinturm, with a 240m height, is only the 10th highest TV tower in Germany.

Aachen TV tower

Aachen countryside

As you would expect, I made a map for this hike.

I took a Thalys back to Paris in the evening to end this German week. This was a great week with a terrific weather for March. My colleagues were a bit surprised to see my tan (Really? You’ve been to Germany?). I met great people there that were very friendly and hospitable and I have to thank them because they are for a large part responsible for the pleasure I had during this trip.

The cost of cycling

2€ coin fr 2002-2012

Since I bought my everyday bicycle in early May 2010, I reached a milestone of 20,000km. I’m even far over it now, but let’s keep things simple.

So I thought it was time to look back on how much I spent on the habit of using my bike for almost every move, commuting as well as holiday trip.

  • The bike itself was bought 870€. It means about 4.35ct/km (so far, no depreciation math)
  • New brake pads every 3,000km for 12€ (0.4ct/km)
  • New tires every 20,000km worth 70€ (0.35ct/km)
  • Almost complete drive-train change after 12,000km worth 260€ (2.2ct/km)
  • Several minor repairs and « upgrades » for around 15€ every 1,000km (1.5ct/km)
  • Some trips using TGV (French fast train), requiring extra reservation for the bike 10€, about once every 5,000km (0.2ct/km)
  • Accessories: bike panniers: 220€ (yes, I own 2 pairs) (1.1ct/km) and locks: 110€ (0.55ct/km)

(I don’t count gifts like the pricey Brooks saddle, thanks mum and dad.)

Total cost per kilometer: 10.65ct

Total cost over 20,000km: 2030 €

Total cost per year: 900€

What if I still used public transit? A yearly subscription is worth 847€. Employers have the obligation to refund half of it to their employees. So it would cost me 423€, covering only commuting and travels close to Paris.

Cycling covers a wider range of uses, at least that’s true for me. Places that were almost unreachable by public transit become really accessible on a bicycle, or combining bicycle with train for instance.

What if I had a car instead? What a silly question. Seriously it causes so much more trouble than it brings advantages, that it doesn’t deserve a close look.

What if France transportation policy was fair and sustainable?

Motorists get various indemnities for their mileage expenses driving to work. Public transit users have a 50% refund on their monthly or yearly subscriptions (as I said above). Cyclists get nothing.

I will use Belgium as an example. If you’re commuting by bike there, you get 0.21€ per kilometer from your employer (or as tax deductions, I’m not sure how it is applied).

I live 11km away from my workplace. I cycle 5 days a week, about 39 weeks a year (not counting holidays and winter days I don’t ride to work), which means about 4,400km a year, only commuting.

In Belgium I would get 900€ a year, one way or another, for cycling to work.

Why doesn’t such a thing exist in France?

Meanwhile in France the government promises to reduce taxes on gas, for an estimated cost of 300M€. Enough money to fund 1.5 billion kilometers of bicycle commute. And this is only temporary, gas prices will next year be higher than today. This money would have been better invested in more sustainable transportation.

No matter how much efficient, safe, clean, reliable, low-maintenance, exhilarating or whatever commuting by bike is, politics remain very short-sighted on transportation issues and solutions.

Euskadi & Navarra (España 4)

Don’t miss the beginning! This article is part of a series that starts >> here <<.

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Last part of this spanish adventure took place in the top right corner of the country, in the 2 Basque speaking provinces of Navarra and the Basque Country (Euskadi).

My first stop there was the capital of the Basque country, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Cities have names in both Basque and Spanish, and sometimes both are used next to each other, at least on maps. It seems to me people use more the Spanish names.

Vitoria-Gasteiz

This industrial city as a nice old centre. At least they obviously work hard to make it stand out and attract tourist who usually skip it and stay in the more famous Bilbao and San Sebastián.

This year, Vitoria-Gasteiz is European Green Capital. I didn’t even know that exists. The all region seems very concerned about environmental issues anyway. Every city I’ve visited in this region is full of bicycle infrastructures, no nuclear power and no fast train signs.

This is the main square, Plaza de la Virgen Blanca :

Vitoria-Gasteiz main square

The historic centre extends behind it and is not only called Casco Antiguo (in Spanish), but also Alde Zaharra (in Basque).

Street in the Alde Zaharra

As it stands on a hill, there are some mechanic stairs to cross it west-to-east. First time I see this kind of urban transit.

public transit

I found some really refined colourful street-art, both historical and political.

historical street art

political street art

The banco de España showed still some marks from the late march strike (probably).

Banco de España - Vitoria

And of course I couldn’t leave without a picture of the street names, often with several different names.

Street names

From this day on until the end of the trip, the weather mostly consisted in heavy showers, wind, and sometimes a bit of sun: a true Scottish weather.

I took a train to the capital of Navarra.

Pamplona/Iruña

Here again both names are used, but the Spanish name is more evocative of travels and crazy bull-runs of the San Fermin.

The city is the less lively at night I’ve seen in Spain, although there are plenty of pintxos bars in the casco viejo, around the Plaza del Castillo.

Plaza del Castillo

The only outstanding façade is on the city hall.

Ayuntamiento

Although located on the camino francese, the cathedral is far outranked by those of León and Burgos.

Pamplona cathedral

What makes the city pleasant is the amount of green spaces, mostly converted fortifications, especially the huge citadel.

Ciudadela - Pamplona

And also the green corridor along the Arga river, which is kind of a stream because the city is at the foot of the Pyrénées.

Arga river

Olite

A few kilometres South of Pamplona is the little village of Olite. Here stands the huge castle of the Navarran kings. It was unfortunately burnt down during the Spanish independence war, but has been greatly restored. The only thing missing is the inner decorations, which were, according to some writers, among the finest in European royal courts.

Olite castle entrance

Olite Santa Maria Church

Olite castle

The castle even hosts a hanging garden.

Hanging garden of Olite

Olite castle

Finally it was time to reach the last stop of my trip, on the Atlantic coast, the city of San Sebastián.

Donostia-San Sebastián

The city has a truly amazing location, with perfectly shaped city beaches, protected from the winds and flows of the open sea by an island and forest-covered mountains, on top of one is a statue of the Christ, making the city looks like a downsized European Rio.

The plaza mayor-like Constitution square reminds you that you are still in Spain.

Plaza de la Constitucion

And the harbour shows the fishermen and whale hunting traditions of the city, before it devoted to tourism.

San Sebastián harbour

On mount Urgull, the mountain protecting the city center from the winds of the Bay of Biscay, stands a statue of the Christ, from which there are nice views on the city and the Concha bay.

Monte Urgull

The center from Monte Urgull

The bay from Monte Urgull

But the view is far more breathtaking from the Monte Igeldo, topped by an odd amusement park, on the other side of the Bahia de La Concha.

The bay from Monte Igeldo

In between, almost no one dares to walk on the golden sand.

Bahia de la Concha

Center seen from the Concha

At some point we wanted to rent bicycles, but the frequent showers had reason of our determination, and we ended up walking and taking the Monte Igeldo funicular. The city seemed really bike friendly, it has the longest bicycle commuter tunnel in the world.

From San Sebastián, it is really easy and cheap to reach the French border with Euskotren, the Basque train company. This is what I did and then a fast train took a little more than 6 hours to bring me back to Paris, 800 kilometres away.

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As promised already, here is a map that locates all the stops I made during those 3 weeks.

Spain 03.23 - 04.14

Some asked me what my favourite city was. But that’s really hard to tell. I gave some clues in the previous articles and there are too many reasons not to give a definitive answer.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and that it made you want to explore Spain deeper than just Barcelona and Madrid. Next time in this country, I’ll be interested in … all the regions I’ve not been to!