. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#17 - Scandinavia
Jeff Willner - 7 November, 2001

(Copenhagen, DENMARK) - Seven days, seven cities in four countries. Another week of hyper-tourism, this time through Scandinavia. Last week we had an unexpected party in Estonia as a highlight. This week it was unexpected black ice that coated the roads through Norway's western mountain passes. I rather enjoyed the two nights of steering wheel gripping fun as the Land Rover shimmied sideways through the corners. However, the women didn't appreciate me yanking on the handbrake and yelling "Look at this baby go!" Still, we made Copenhagen safe and sound. I enclose a brief summary of our Scandinavian adventures for your review…

Our itinerary changed three times in a week and Gulin had a hard time catching up with us. Finally we settled on her rejoining the expedition in Helsinki, and we drove up from St. Petersburg on November 1 to rescue her from the grasp of the airport arrival lounge. Helsinki is a nice little capitol city, hemmed round by water in all directions but manageably compact. Our biggest challenges were the temperature (windy and below freezing) and the outrageous Scandinavian prices - our temperature and pocketbooks would continue to suffer throughout the week. In the spirit of keeping the show on the road, we budgeted only the morning to explore the city. Helsinki's museum of modern art had some really interesting stuff (it gets better as you climb floors) and we managed to catch a Star Wars exhibition that had only previously been in London, England. Goot? Ya, ya.

In the afternoon we loaded onto a twelve-hour ferry across the sea to Stockholm. With four restaurants, a cabaret show, shopping, sauna, and kiddie care room, we were quite looking forward to a night of effortless travel. We didn't realize that on Friday nights the ship was Helsinki's unofficial party barge. Finnish revelers loaded up on duty-free alcohol as soon as the ship left the dock and commenced two-fisted drinking. Gulin, Jody, Sally, and Janet were sharing a cozy four-person cabin. I was sharing a 'man cabin' with three strangers, and after wandering through the merry masses, started getting a bit concerned about my luck of the draw. No worries though, except for the totally inebriated Swedish geezer who really wanted to have a long conversation with his four English words, the cabin was quiet and the sleeping was good.

Stockholm is a city built on islands, actually over 12,000 of them make up the capitol area of Sweden. It has the reputation of being the prettiest city in Scandinavia and I would likely add my vote to that - but then I only saw a little corner of the old city island. Insides of a couple churches, an internet café, the royal palace apartments, and a very nice Italian restaurant called "Sally's" (because I was walking with Sally). Once again, we only had four hours to wander before piling into the truck to move on yet again, this time a six hundred kilometer drive to Oslo, Norway. Someone remarked that we must go through a lot of maps since we average a new country every two days. But actually we have been able to muddle through using only the disgustingly inaccurate Lonely Planet maps - and a secret technique taught to me with much effort by the women on the trip. It is effective and cheap, but remains unused by virtually all men because we are genetically encoded to ignore the technique. I am speaking of course about, asking for directions.

We left Stockholm looking for any highway sign (of course no highway numbers are shown in the guidebook), followed a particular highway because it 'felt right', u-turned onto the city ring road based on the direction of the sun, and then Janet and Jody ran into a McDonalds to verify that we actually were right on target. Our Land Rover strains along at a maximum of 120kph (we really should be going at 100kph for the sake of the gearbox) and with five people crammed in the cab with a year's worth of expedition gear, cold weather coats, food, and souvenirs - it makes for a claustrophobic ride. So the frequent requests from the women for a bladder break are a good excuse to get out and stretch. It took eight hours to reach Oslo, and it was our luck to arrive on the eve of the biggest football (soccer) game of the year, the national finals.

Driving through downtown Oslo to our hostel, the streets were crammed with masses of blue Viking and red Farmer shirts. It was the city team vs. the country team, and the country supporters rang cow bells in defiance of their urban competition. It was even odds whether we would find any place to stay, fortunately the hostel turned out to be a gigantic affair (of course it was not shown in the guidebook so we found it by trailing a streetcar and then asking directions from a taxi driver) and one room hadn't yet been claimed. A familiar theme the next morning, only a couple hours to explore downtown Oslo in the freezing rain. There were two surprises though, the first was city hall. Even though it was a weekend, we were welcomed inside where virtually the entire premises were available to tour. Norway has quite a bit of money from its oil in the North Sea, and Oslo had put some of it to good use with generous commissions to painters, tapestry makers, and other craftsmen to decorate the city hall. Quite a democratic idea, the politicians 'borrow' the building for their meetings, but otherwise it is the domain of the public. Oslo's City Museum was the second surprise, a terrific collection of Modern art with some little known Scandinavian artists and a feature section of Munch (famous for The Scream). Once again, we loaded up in the early afternoon and took off on another eight-hour drive. Everything was deserted, it seemed the entire country was riveted to the football match in progress. I was secretly rooting for the Farmers but they got hammered, three to nothing.

Why the insane schedule? A couple reasons. First, the weather was freezing and it got dark at around 4pm, not a good combination for late afternoon sightseeing, we figured we might as well drive in the afternoon dark. Second, we wanted to leave a few days to enjoy Norway's western fjords, and the guidebook warned of narrow roads and slow progress. It proved correct. An hour out of Oslo we turned onto a narrow mountain road that began gaining altitude. Dinner was at a roadside cafeteria in a ski lodge town - very cool with it's pine walls and ski run guides tacked to the wall. But shortly after leaving, the sun set and the slush on the road froze. I got frustrated going only 60kph and decided to push a bit harder but as soon as I did the truck broke loose on a corner and started sliding off the road. Yikes. I hadn't realized how bad it was - the road was covered in a solid sheet of ice.

Imagine a black winter night, mountain peaks of snow glowed in the starlight. A frozen lake lurked off the cliff-edge on our left side. And the road, unsalted, wound out of the headlights like a menacing test. And then, a warm yellow glow appeared on the valley wall. We pulled into a short tunnel - and stopped abruptly at a white barricade door. What to do? Automatically, the door began to disappear into the ceiling, and in front of us stretched a rough rock tunnel, blasted directly through the mountain, lit by kilometers of yellow lights. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bat Cave! It was very, very cool. Norway's western region has always presented a challenge to land transportation, drivers had to either endure long ferry rides across the long fjords, or challenge the windswept mountain passes which were frequently closed by storms. No longer. Short tunnels led to longer ones, and longer ones still, 3km, 11km, we passed one that was 22km long! After slipping around the snowy passes it was a relief to dive into dry tunnel roads.

Flam is at the center of "Norway in a Nutshell", a one-day highlight tour of the steepest railway line and the narrowest fjord in the country. On a three hour ferry ride through the fjord, the boat churned through cold black water hemmed in by sheer cliffs on each side, exquisitely beautiful. It was windy and quite cold on the ferry deck, but inside the boat cabin an Italian girls choir was belting out pop tunes - pick your poison. Another drive to Bergen on the west coast of Norway, the most picturesque town in the country (and this I can confirm). Old houses and guild halls huddle on the harbor road, the cobbled downtown is cut through by alleys of restaurants and shops, and surrounding it all are cliffs reached by funicular or cable car. We'd hoped for an easy over-night ferry from Bergen to Copenhagen to allow us a couple days to unwind, but it was not to be - no boat, we had to drive.

So we headed back into the icy heights of the Norwegian mountains. Skidded around the roads, ate gas station food, took the occasional ferry, and generally speaking just sat in the truck for two days. Copenhagen was reached across several dramatically long bridges. Another city built on the water, its downtown is rent by canals and an incomprehensible pattern of one-way streets. After two days of driving I figured street signs were optional and we wandered across 'bus only' and pedestrian streets with the impunity that comes from 2.5 tons of 4x4. Hooray, our reward for finding the "Sleep in Heaven" hostel was a bed in the two hundred and fifty bed dormitory room - bed linens an extra $5. Sometimes traveling on a budget just sucks. Still, we had our usual couple of hours worth of exploring the next day, a nice dinner, and that sense of accomplishment that comes with 'doing' Scandinavia in seven days. Tomorrow morning we are off again, this time to Berlin and a one-week dash down Western Europe to Spain where we will ship the truck to South America.

I always did find it hard to keep the Nordic countries separate in my head. After the trip it is so much easier. Since you are probably reading this while contributing to the productivity of your nation's economy and have no intention of 'doing' Scandinavia in seven days, I have compiled a handy guide!

Knowing Your Scandinavian Countries

Finland: Sits up above Russia and shares a long border. Has been kicked around a lot through history, first dominated by Sweden and later by Russia. In fact, just before the communist revolution the Tsar was getting serious about removing Finland's semi-autonomous status and integrating it completely into Russia. Fortunately it got independence in the peace settlements after WWI. The Finns are outdoorsy, neat, love unfinished pine furniture and are quite proud of Nokia, their national success story. And for a good time, take the Friday night ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm.

Sweden: Was the major power in the north for hundreds of years and still retains a constitutional monarchy. It lost territory in Russia and Finland in a series of ill-advised wars and then decided that war was bad, business was good. Stayed neutral in WWII and sold to both sides. The country boasts a host of world-class companies and the strong economy allowed the government to implement a cradle-to-grave form of social security. Unfortunately, enlightened social policy demanded the world's highest taxes and by the early 90's the economy was staggering along. It has bounced back, but not before taking some of the shine off the Swedish system. The surrounding countries resent Sweden's sense of economic and social superiority, in fact when Sweden played Italy in the World Cup the surrounding countries rooted for Italy. And the other thing is, in Sweden virtually every car on the road is a Volvo.

Norway: Was also one of the countries that got abused during the Middle Ages, was last ruled by Sweden (explains the sporting bias). Norway has a beautiful and rugged landscape, but unfortunately very little farming land. It's economy was tiny until, wonder of wonders, oil was found in the North Sea. Norway has the entire North Sea coastline, it even stretches above Sweden and Finland. So, voila, Norway was rich. With money to spare and concerned about preserving their traditional (and picturesque) ways of life, Norway opted out of the European Union - that way they could continue to heavily subsidize their small farmers and not worry about fishing quotas. Of all the Scandinavian countries, Norway is the most beautiful, and the money hasn't gone to their heads.

Denmark: Before Sweden, Denmark was the power of the north, with the fighting and the knights and the conquests. But then the monarchy weakened and land was lost all over the place, so now the country is quite small (its perched on top of Germany). But for all that ancient conquering, it has good relations with the neighbors. In fact, when Norway got independence from Sweden they asked Denmark to provide a suitable royal to be king (but he had to change his name) - so Norway's royalty is actually originally from Denmark. I noticed quite a few cute Danish women, there is a large dog called a Great Dane, and Hans Christian Andersen (children's stories) is from Denmark. Oh, and the statue of the Little Mermaid is in Copenhagen, but it is really small!


Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com