Saturday, July 28, 2007

I've found the place we can all retire...

...Oslo! Except for the blistering cold and snow for eight months of the year, I think we'd all be very happy there. Firstly, Oslo is very green and beautiful:


Has some nice quaint parts to it:

And a ski jump for the boys:


The only problem is that you need to have your own mint to live in Norway - everything costs a fortune and makes London's prices look positively bargain basement. AUS$18 for a crappy Maccas meal makes it even less attractive than it was before. And another downside is that the alcohol is heavily regulated too - you can only buy it at government outlets, and it's incredibly expensive and only about 3.5%.

On the upside, if you actually live there you get free health care and education, free looking after when you get old, nice tax breaks and an extraordinarily high standard of living. I imagine you'd be able to travel all the time because everywhere else would seem comparatively cheap. Even if you're unemployed in Norway, the government gives you the equivalent of $50,000 a year, which I think anyone would agree you can live quite comfortably on.

The reason for all this, I discovered over there, is that Norway is astronomically wealthy due to its vast oil and natural gas reserves. Apparently the government's strict control of the economy is due to the fact that there is so much money that if they let it go unregulated, everything would just go berserk (that's my incredibly simplistic explanation of things, as I don't have a clue about economics). It's like living in Brunei or something, but with a bit of socialism thrown in. But it's good to see at least one country using their income from oil in a positive way.

We stayed with some relatives of Brenton's friend Ben, the lovely Jan Erik and Bjerg, who were the Norwegian version of my grandparents. They were fabulous to us and fed us well too - beautiful fresh seafood everyday. We also met a few of Ben's other relatives and gained a bit of an insight into the Norwegian approach to things. Norwegians struck me generally as a quite insular but down to earth bunch who were aware of how good they had it but had no desire to mooch off their country's wealth, or take more than they needed. They were also very environmentally minded and acutely aware of the need to preserve the their country's resources for future generations.
So, on the whole, a pretty impressive and progressive lot.

Some other things I liked about Oslo:

Amusing and unusual buskers:

The Munch Museum, whose main feature was a pastel version of The Scream. The 'real' version was still being restored after it was stolen from the Museum in 2005. (Incidentally, the previous time the painting was stolen, in 1994, it was stashed at the house next to Jan Erik and Bjerg's, who woke up one morning to find a sting operation taking place in their front garden).


Endearing public works of art:


And lots of water surrounded by luscious green, foresty areas:


Next post: the delightful Copenhagen, where I was extremely embarrassed to find out that they show Australian Princess on TV.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Older and more paranoid?

Well team, another birthday has passed and I'm okay with it (just). I think I've told just about everyone I've ever met how much I hate ageing, but on reflection, life doesn't seem so bad at the mo. I'm living in my favourite place on earth and life seems to be rolling along quite smoothly. I have great friends, a decent fella and a relatively cushy job. All my family and friends are healthy and happy. And I am getting to travel all the time, which is my favourite thing to do. So, by way of birthday life review, I think it's all going okay.

I said in my last post that I would be saying something about the security situation in London. I am one of those unfortunate people who, over here, share their birthday with the anniversary of a terrorist attack. Because of this, security in London was amped up considerably in the weeks leading up to the date and getting anywhere was close to impossible. Thankfully it has eased up now, but at one point a tube station was being closed nearly every day due to a 'security alert'. Airports were being closed, causing the usual level of chaos. There were police everywhere. At the station close to my work, they closed 10/13 entrances and posted police next to the remaining ones to watch everyone coming in. I found myself scrutinising the people in my train carriage, which perhaps surprisingly I haven't really done before over here.

As it turns out, where terrorism fails you, incompetence steps in and fills the void. My usual train into the city, at the time I usually take it, derailed the other day at station before mine (Mile End) due to a tarpaulin being left on the track. It would have been horrible to be on that train, particularly since everyone on it would have been certain it was a terrorist attack and it would have been every bit as scary.

Anyway, things are relatively back to normal now, and the only problems on the train are the usual ones of signal failure or 'body under the train' (I kid you not). But, as a friend said the other day, at least we're living in a city of enough significance for someone to want to attack it.

Anyhoo, am off on Sunday for a week or so, to visit Oslo and Copenhagen. And yes I am planning to call on Princess Mary and yes I will say hi from all of you! Or maybe I will just try and test Australians' popularity in Copenhagen by trying to scam free drinks at the local bars. One or the other.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Oui, oui, c'est bon!

Ahhh Paris. Just lovely. Given that Brenton and I are both novices when it comes to French (okay, every language other than English), we did a good job at getting ourselves around and semi-communicating with the natives. We were also very proud of our mastering of the Metro, which is far nicer and about 10 degrees cooler than the Tube.

We saw the beautiful Notre Dame, which I have decided is my favourite Cathedral, mainly because it was a lot neater than Canterbury. But surprisingly, they allow tourists to parade around Notre Dame during sermons, surely knowing that a large number of those tourists are loud and annoying Americans who have zero respect for the no flash rule:


We also did the compulsory meander over to the Louvre and Champs-Elysees, via a number of pet shops where was spent ages ogling the adorable puppies, though I got a bit teary when I saw a little Sammy lookalike. We then spent a while embracing the European way of life, i.e. spending long periods of sitting around leisurely:


I also stopped by mtk's favourite bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, which was so cute and eccentric. Unfortunately, the top four floors were closed. But the first floor, which the shelves to the ceiling and big piles of books, was great. Since mtk didn't post a photo, I'm putting one up now:


Shakespeare & Co was in the Latin Quarter, which was the cool cafe/bar/club district that I've noticed is present in every European city....


...and, as usual with every city, the gay/lesbian population had realised it was a cool area before anyone else and made it their own. It was International Pride Day I think, so the streets were filled with people, music and a massive parade. I was slightly more into the spirit of things than Brenton, who got a bit annoyed when I started singing along to Kylie!

Of course, the purpose of the trip was to see Genesis, playing at the Parc des Princes of Saturday night. For those of you who are not already wise to this, Genesis is really just Phil Collins. The other members are Mike from Mike and the Mechanics (so I'm told) and some other guy, but they don't really do a lot.

I was amazed by how many people were at the stadium - there must have been about 30,000 or so. Who knew so many people were still fans of Genesis? Phil was great and impressively conducted most of his banter with the audience in French. Although, he and the band seemed to have a taste for long instrumental numbers which were a bit exasperating, especially when you're standing up. The stage was also amazing with the clearest big screens that I've ever seen:


Yes, I was one of the youngest people there!

The next day, we were extremely tired and hungover, so much so that we even missed the complementary buffet breakfast. Shocking. But we did manage to squeeze in a quick walk down to the Eiffel Tower.


I loved Paris, and I am surprising myself to say that its the first city I've visited over here that I have actually thought I could live in as an alternative to London. Particularly with the security situation being what it is, but more on that later...