Memories from my Tour to Three Countries of Northern Europe



Several years ago, I willingly took part in a tour of inspection, which was organized by a certain large company, to Northern Europe because I had long wanted to go there even once in my life. The tour of 42 members was very packed: 4 cities in 3 countries within 6 days; however, I still freely enjoyed some of the cultures peculiar to North Europe in a short period of time.


First, we visited Helsinki in Finland. The scenery seen from the window of the bus bound for the midtown area seemed very fresh to me: a little inorganic and unusual space with green trees and white buildings, different from any other foreign country. There weren’t any profound historical buildings like in London, Paris and Rome, and harmonious buildings of almost the same height stood regularly. The streets without any flashy advertisements or signboards in garish colors were quite clean, and the entire towns with fewer people and cars were quiet and peaceful. All of them made me very impressed.


One of the reasons why the streets looked orderly was the well-equipped cycling paths. I found the people of Finland had a high level of morality because I didn’t see any vending machines, stalls, illegally parked cars and bicycles, garbage or cigarette-butts on the streets when I was walking around. I could relax very much during the slowly passing time maybe because I thought it natural to live restlessly and busily in the crowded city.


At the University of Helsinki, we listened to the students’ speeches and I admired their fluent and witty deliveries despite their inexperience of studying in Japan. I thought the Finns were a very diligent and highly cultured people because they could naturally speak some foreign languages as well as English, even after considering their necessity of learning foreign languages because of historical and geographical reasons.


Next, we visited Oslo in Norway. We looked around the floor of City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony is held every year, and I learned that Alfred Nobel decided to hold only the Peace Prize award ceremony in Norway wishing for the reconciliation and peace between Sweden and Norway. I was surprised to know the history of the long conflict between the two neighboring countries even in Northern Europe.


At the entrance of City Hall, there were big wall paintings with the motif of Norse mythology, where the supreme god Odin and the goddess Freya with other gods and goddesses were painted in a narrative style. I had and have miniature schnauzers which were named after Norse mythology: Freya was a female dog which passed away 4 years ago at the age of 13, Odin is a 16-year-old male dog, Skuld and Ould are female dogs which are a little younger than 2 years old. My son named them after a god and goddesses of Norse mythology; therefore, I thought of my dogs when I was looking at the wall paintings. Later, I proudly talked about my dogs and their names, but unfortunately, they showed only a little interest in my story.


We left Oslo and moved along a zigzag railroad in the rough mountains by the Bergen Railway which ran through the southern tip of the Scandinavian mountains and the mountainous railway for Flam. The land was covered with deep snow even at the end of October and I could not forget the fantastic and beautiful scenery as if I had been in Norse mythology. The sightseeing guide on the LCD monitor in the vehicle was performed in English, French and Japanese, to my surprise. It showed that so many Japanese went there for a fjord and aurora tour.


We were supposed to transfer from the train to the fjord sightseeing boat at Flam Harbor, but no one in charge came out even after the boarding time. We were a little irritated to see the sailors smoking cigarettes relaxingly and leisurely. After about 1 hour, they announced that the boat was under repair because of engine trouble, and finally the boat left the harbor 2 hours behind schedule. It was almost evening when the boat put out to sea, so after a little while, the sun set, and we couldn’t see the superb view of the fjord any more in the total darkness. And what was worse, it became rainy and foggy, and we couldn’t do anything but stay in our cabin. Even so, I still enjoyed the fantastic and mysterious atmosphere of dim lights of scattered houses in the dark.


On the way back from Flam to Oslo by bus, we had a look around Borgund Stave Church, World Heritage Site. It was a wooden architecture of the Church of Norway, which was built using advanced architectural technology without any nails or metallic material in the 12th century. This church has been repeatedly repaired and preserved in very good condition since it was built. Later, I thought that I should have looked around the church more to learn that this church was the model of Elsa’s ice palace in the Disney movie, “Frozen” which was a big hit in Japan.


We went back to Oslo, and set sail for Copenhagen in Denmark, our next destination, on a large passenger ship. The ship left the harbor in the early evening and arrived the next morning. While I was on the board, I was deeply impressed by the beautiful morning glow in the eastern direction, the Sweden side, and Kronborg Castle towering solemnly on the small hill in the western direction, the Denmark side.


Unlike the fantastic and calm atmosphere which I experienced in this tour, Copenhagen was a busy city with many people and cars, and it was one of the biggest international trade cities in Europe. The time passed as quickly as I felt in Japan, and it made not only me but also some of other tour members feel comfortable.


The local tour guide gave us some information about a popular souvenir from Denmark to wealthy madams and ladies in Japan: an eco-bag sold at supermarket “Irma” for about JPY 500. Therefore, I left Tivoli a little earlier than the scheduled time and went to the supermarket. I laughed unconsciously to find other middle-aged and elderly male members of my tour were packing together and buying many eco-bags even though they all were presidents or directors of some of Japan’s best-known countries. (However, I also bought the eco-bag.)


In this tour, I stayed for a few days in each city and looked quickly and superficially around only famous sightseeing spots. If I have another chance to visit Northern Europe again, I want to spend a lot of time traveling by train around Sweden in addition to three countries I already visited, and I also want to experience local culture in rural towns which aren’t shown in tour guide books.






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