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Oslo and steady wins the race Catarrh airways

Warning: the photos in this could be some of the worst I've ever taken, because I spent the day largely wielding my camera and its lenses especially the one that requires manual focus. I've done no quality control, post-processing, or anything. Fingers crossed at least some of them came out OK.

Right. Yes. Stop playing Bricks 'n Balls and get on with writing up yesterday, Wednesday 10th October 2018. I woke up feeling absolutely rotten, experiencing a triple whammy of aggressive aircon dehydration, headcold, and vicious hangover. Utterly rancid. I had a few big swigs of the weird bottled water in the room and got very bored of watching BBC World News on a tight rolling schedule. Asked for a late checkout, sat down to blog, re-packed my bags in case late checkout wasn't granted, and come 0930 I set off.

At reception they granted my late checkout request and told me the quickest way to get to the train station platform, depending on whether I wanted to pay double the price for an express train that's only 3 minutes quicker than the regular NSB service. Yeah, NSB will be fine thanks. I bought a 101 NOK (c.£10) ticket from a machine which didn't obviously show a way to buy a day pass or return; didn't have much time to investigate further because a train was leaving in 2 minutes, and indeed it set off within seconds of me boarding.

Sat across an aisle from a main in military fatigues and accompanied by the most staggeringly cute Staffordshire bull terrier pup I've ever seen, I mostly nursed my head and felt sorry for myself. Silky had provided me with an example itinerary I might want to follow for the few hours I had to spare, and Oslo is just generally meant to be wonderful, but I felt so woeful physically and mentally that I found it hard to enjoy anything.

But, motions are there to be gone through. We arrived at Oslo S about 25 minutes after leaving the airport and I'm wandering through the concourse, wondering which exit I'm meant to take to get to the waterfront. I recognised the name "Karl-Johans Gate" so followed that one, which was wrong, I should've gone out of the Opera exit, but whatever. There's a sign outside to the waterfront promenade and I follow it, discovering that the area near the station is basically just one big building site. Yuck.

It's sunny though, bright enough that I regret not bringing my shades. Once I get next to the water I look to my left, ever so briefly because the sun is blazing at me, and there's the fancy opera house. There's not many people around and ample places to sit and start dicking around with my camera. Dicking around is right, because the damn thing doesn't turn on. Come on, this isn't funny, this isn't schadenforeman. I take the battery out and put it back in, and it turns on. Right. Must've been just a dodgy connection when I put it in back at the hotel. Let's see if I can't take some passable shots with it.

The 150mm zoom lens works OK.
This is all kinds of badly focused though.
Not really got the hang of the wide lens either.

The few pics I grab are aggravating in the extreme. The camera is refusing to turn on after being turned off unless I take the battery out each time, and during one such time I somehow disconnect the hinge that keeps the battery in place anyway. God damn it! I'm feeling so down about everything at this moment, and message Helen to tell her my camera woes, before making a concerted effort to at least fix the hinge back in place. I do so, and from that point on the camera behaves itself for the rest of the day. Fine. Good. Phew.

There are information points lining the route but I stop to read none of them. I don't feel particularly able to take in any history or culture, I just want to clear my head, get some exercise, kill some time, and see if I can get the hang of this 12mm lens.

Aha. Am I getting somewhere? This harbourfront art project place called Salt is mostly deserted, and I remember what Mike at work did to the camera in an attempt to learn how to use manual focus. Point, hit the 14x zoom view button, twist focus ring until the thing I want to be sharp is sharp, return to normal view, take picture. It worked!

There are a load of shirts here. Like, loads of them. I presume this is nomadic art.

Any thought of regularly changing lenses went completely from my mind, because it's a royal pain. Anyway, onwards along the harbour promenade. It's pretty industrial around here, all docks and cargo and stuff. Through the car park of some seafaring society or other there's a flat waterfront as the coast turns right, and here are loads of fishermen, all silent.

Nope, not focused that at all have I?

Past the police and something which looks a bit military, I'm heading towards a seemingly busy harbour, as there are numerous passenger boats coming and going, all of them apparently silent. How does that work?

Think this was taken with my phone. How depressing.

First there are a bunch of tall ships. Are these tall ships? I think they're tall ships, in so far as "tall ships" is a thing which may be distinct from "ships which are tall". Anyone?

Here, there are people. Not tons of people, but way more than the 10 or so I'd seen en route. It looks like a busy part of town. There's an ugly building to my right which, according to Silky, is the town hall. I ignore it and head straight for the nearest statue.

And then I think, oh hang on, there's flowers over there – this lens is also meant to be good for macro-ish stuff. Not like proper eyeball-of-an-ant macro, but moderately OK pictures of things within 20cm 'n that. So I wander up to these. Helen, what are they?

That worked OK!

At this point I'm kind of on this weird bit of pavement that's also used as a lane-free road and there are tram lines plus cyclists going in random directions. Just a bit of a free for all tbh, making getting near the Nobel Peace centre a bit tricksy. Also it's fronted by yet more building work so looks naff.

It's either the musem or the place where they hand the prize out. If memory serves they are distinct places but both in this part of town. Could be wrong about that though.

Turns out I'm now at Akker Brygge, which is like a bustling terminal for boats. It's not exactly Circular Quay in Sydney but bears some resemblance. In fact this whole part of town is reminding me in sequence of Circular Quay, the Paddington Basin, and Canary Wharf – because here, the water comes in and the streets become linked with a network of bridges.

In common with those other places, there's a long pedestrianised bit full of swanky looking eateries and stuff. I keep going to the end, where there's an art museum and sculpture park. I'm not going inside, but the park is nice enough.

Even outside of the sculpture park there've been a lot of statues recently, and I'm wondering why none of them feature horses, my infatuation stemming from a similarly self-guided walking tour I did in Madrid a couple of years ago. Then, as I head back on an inland street rather than the way I came, I'm greeted with three equine statues next to each other. There we go!

Bit of a shame I used up my "Kingdom for a Norse" pun the previous day, innit.

More high-end eateries, and a series of statues of naked women, lead me back up to the peace centre. Now I'm going to walk round to the front of the town hall 'cos Silky said there's a brewery up there. I don't really feel like a beer though.

First, there's an outdoor exhibit showing off a whole bunch of Oslo architectural award winners.

The town hall is massive and brutal, unlike anything else I've seen in the city. Mind you it looks like the oldest thing I've seen, as I've so far managed to not find anything that isn't hyper modern. There probably is an old(er) part of town somewhere, but I'm fucked if I know where.

The brewery is here, and open, but I don't want to go in. I have no idea what else there is around here though, so it's a bit of a surprise that I stumble across a park and the national theatre.

Nope, still not quite right.

There's a humongous walking tour gathered in front which I am keen to avoid. A few seconds after they disappear, a cheerful American woman asks me if they're the free tour or the paid one. I tell her I have no idea I'm afraid, but there's so many of them I'm sure you can just tack on at the back. She seems initially suspect of this idea, but then shouts back to me that she's going to do exactly that.

Oh, more flowers.

I really have no idea what I'm doing with this camera, I don't think.

At the other end of the park there are more statues, a jazz busker, and a train station. Ooh, I need a train later, and I think I can get one from here direct to the airport. That's worth remembering. There's a fountain 'n all.

Completing the circuit of the theatre I cannot stop misinterpreting the name of one of the plays.

That will, to me, forever be "Bobmeister Holness", a play about Blockbusters.

Back toward the town hall I decide, y'know what, I've had enough of walking around and taking bad pictures and being ill and hungry and thirsty. I want to sit down, maybe go to the loo, definitely write a bunch of stuff in my notebook, and put the camera and lenses away and be done with it all. So sod it, to Amundsen Brewery it is.

An incredibly friendly woman directs me to sit at the bar, since I'm just here for a drink and small snack rather than proper food. I plonk myself in front of the three taps selling beer made on the premises.

Over the course of 75 minutes or so I work through these taps, just a 250ml glass of each. I mean that's 750ml of beer so, what, a pint and a third? Not much, and they're all sensible percentages and there's no transportation costs or anything. And I'm not immune to Scandic pricing but holy smokes, 750ml of beer and a packet of crisps and it's NINETEEN QUID!? Ouch ouch ouch.

Still, sitting there I'm at least feeling a bit human. It's a nice place to sit and the staff are friendly and I'm able to check on trains back to the airport, aka Gardermoen.

Sigh. Damn it. Well, I actually have quite a lot of time so whatever. Throughout my time sat here I'm chatting a lot with Helen who is on her own train journey back in England. She bought a magazine called "All About Animals" to read on the way and consequently I am utterly inundated with squirrel facts.

As it goes my intended train, the 1318, seems to be on time. It's another 101 NOK, but given the double-price-not-that-express service is actually cancelled this counts as a bargain around here.

The train back is quiet, because I'm in the quiet coach. My ticket gets checked, unlike on the way in, which is actually reassuring. Back at the hotel I zip to my room, grab my other two bags, checkout and pay for the two beers the previous night. Their computer system is running really slowly and the receptionist mutters something about how this might also be the case at the airport. Eh?

In the terminal I take my suitcase to the business class bag drop, which is verrrry slow, and the service not that friendly. I am however given cardboard boarding passes, to go along with the version on my phone and the paper copies I printed out back home. These new ones come in a fancy wallet though, marking me out for the bourgeois fuck I am.

There's fast track boarding which is actually just a shortcut to the front of the regular queue, and the staff are meant to bark at the proles and beckon me forward instead. That's very uncomfortable. But this security aisle is clearly closing soon and there are only 4 people left in the queue so I am happy to wait for them to go through. A member of staff tells me I'm allowed to queue jump and I explain the above. Unfortunately, then someone else fast-tracky joins behind me so suddenly we're both being shunted through in front of the old woman to our right. Sigh.

The bag with all the camera gear sets off the alarm for secondary inspection but otherwise it's quick and efficient, unlike my attempts to find the lounge. I'm sure I read that the OSL lounge is the wrong side of some barrier, in a "don't go through too early as you can't get back out to the lounge" kinda way. So I walk around, failing to find signs to it, until I get a map that says it's beyond the customs barrier. Hmm, OK then. Turns out it is, but it's not beyond passport control. Right.

I'm told I can use "either side" of the lounge, as there's a separate bit for people who are flying business class rather than have access via a shiny card. I go to the "premium" side and get a plate full of food with a full fat Pepsi, because the Pepsi Max button didn't work. Yes, I really didn't get any alcohol.

In fact I had no alcohol at all there. I'm feeling considerably better than in the morning, but still pretty ropey. And anyway the booze selection here was a single self-pour beer tap - and I have terrible previous experiences with those in lounges - and a bunch of spirits and wines I'd never heard of except for Blue Nun, which told me something.

Thinking yet again about buying a pen, as the one I nabbed from the hotel is temperamental, I leave with 70 minutes to go before boarding. As I approach passport control I try to go down the bit marked "self-service" but a woman says no, the machines are all broken, sorry but she's about to close that aisle and I should join the desks queue. As I reach the end of the queue a man there says hey, the self-service machines just got fixed, do I want to use them? So I have basically the fastest fast track possible. Ha.

The world's worst theme park comes and goes, and then there's a big spot for wheelchairs you can borrow. That's very cool.

The gate says boarding, but nobody's boarding. There's already a fairly long queue at the fast track bit. I get some more exercise by pacing nervously back and up down the corridor. It really is nerves too. Why am I nervous?

On my third pass of the gate, people really are boarding and I stroll through, getting a personal greeting on the airbridge as "Mr Darren". I'm just behind Mr Pontius. He has a better name than me, but doesn't get a welcome back like I did. So there.

Onboard I walk to seat 3A and the nerves start to go away. There's a hard Brics amenty kit there already, plus blanket and cushion, big screen TV, all that jazz. I do like this stuff.

There's a bottle of water in the aisle-side armrest, which requires use of the controls to operate. The USB socket is for connectivity only, and doesn't provide power. This is enormously frustrating.

After I'm done arranging all my stuff a member of crew comes along to welcome me onboard and offer me a champagne. Yes please. And a choice of towel temperature!? Well, I'll have a cold towel then please since you asked.

Since the entertainment system is so well reknowned (aside: I should know all this, I flew Qatar the other year, but it still feels kinda unfamiliar) and operates from gate to gate I think I'll get going with a film straight away. But I am flummoxed by the giant screen not being responsive to my touch, and the handset operating in Russian mode. Guess I can tell the nationality of whoever flew Doha to Oslo before me.

The vaguest memory of how the Russian alphabet works helps me navigate to the bit where I can put it in English, but wow this handset is sluggish and bad. If I had to guess I'd say it's some form of Android, but the touch screen really sucks and the software doesn't seem that much better. Nonetheless I manage to get Rampage going, just as they come hand me the booze and food menus.

The wine menu is way more extensive than that but since it doesn't interest me I selfishly decide not to bother taking pics for you lot. More prosaically, I also decide it's time during taxi to dick around with my camera and lenses again because we're waiting for stuff to land before we take off and hey, can I use the phallic zoom to get a pic of that?

Wobbly, big zoom, through a dirty window. I'm claiming success here.

Back watching the screen, Rampage is preposterous from the first scene AND with airline censorship making me laugh even more. Whoever they got to dub over The Rock whenever he swears sounds nothing like The Rock and should shut the hell up...except for how entertaining it is. Throughout the film I also find myself wishing that The Rock was always cast as a character called The Rock who referred to himself in third person the whole time. Can't really see a downside to this movie, or any of his others, were he to do that, can you?

With a plot thin enough that missing a minute here or there matters little, I'm able to mess around getting blurry unimpresisve photos of Norway.

I'd ordered my food before take off, and opted not to ask for a different service time (you can have it whenever you want, and in any order you want - it says so on the menu), plus whatever post-take-off drinks. Champagne, naturally. And nuts. I do love nuts. Not as much as squirrels, but still.

I accidentally knock my handset, which I've stowed back in its holder, which fast forwards Rampage by about an hour. D'oh! Rewinding/finding the part where I was is really painful, but it's worth the effort because Rampage is magnificent. Yeah maybe it's the headcold and the champagne and the altitude and all the other things messing with my head right now, and look, I know it's objectively awful, but I call it as magnificent. The dubbing continues to be icing on the cake - "IT WASN'T A GOSH DARN REQUEST" - to the point where I think I'd be disappointed to hear the original words.

Anyway. Food!

Some weird fish thing as an appetizer. Dunno what it was, wasn't on the menu. This photo is terrible. The bread was nice.

This is more like it. It's Arabic mezze starter, and very very nutty. It comes with some out-of-shot mini pitta bread type things. Because there's three I think I'm entitled to say nom, nom, and nom.

The main is a fantastic chicken with rice, also Arabic so I'm told. Not really sure what's so Arabic about it.

"You asked for the cake, right?" I'm asked. "Actually I asked for the cheese AND cake, because I'm greedy" is my response. So here comes the cheese, and grapes, and quince, and crackers.

And then this magnificent chocolate cake with cream that's in danger of spilling towards me. During each course I've been topped up with champagne, so much so I fail to order a glass of port. Damn it.

There's regular turbulence, bad enough that even the crew have to take their seats, which is annoying. I'm told to clutch my champagne glass tight. Don't worry.

Godiva chocolates in a box arrive as I start my second movie, The Commuter. I don't think it's a spoiler to say the plot is "poor old Liam Neeson finds his family under threat unless he does some heroic stuff". He doesn't seem to get a break does he?

The cabin lights are dim, it's dark outside, most people are asleep. I make the entire cabin crew laugh by daring to venture through the curtain up front when in fact the loos are to the rear. Frankly I don't see what's so funny! At the back there's this tiny little bar which I recall from last time - unstaffed, just a little area to serve yourself whatever they've left out and take a magazine or two. The only drink there is self-pour champagne, but I resist.

Back in my seat I put on a movie requiring subtitles, a brave move considering my attention span and addiction to Bricks 'n Balls and drunken tired state but, remarkably, I successfully make my way through A Better Tomorrow 2018. It helps that it's closely modelled on A Better Tomorrow (1986) and entirely predictable and that the words are largely inconsequential.

Captain does a great job of avoiding the horrible 39k feet threshold.

I'm plagued by forthcoming choice as we approach Doha. I have two hotels booked, see. Qatar Airways offer a free stay at their affiliated hotel if you are forced into a stop over 8 hours by the timetable, and that much is true for my itinerary. However, simultaneouly, there is an offer in conjunction with the Qatar tourism authority to get a room in a 5 star city hotel. I, therefore, booked both, and when I land have to figure out which to take.

The city hotels are better, but I'll have to pay to get there and back. Furthermore the city hotels are room only, whereas the airline hotel comes with a food allowance. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.

With about an hour to go I've finished A Better Tomorrow and figure I've time for some TV instead. The choice is much worse than the movies, but it has the full season of Bulletproof from Sky One which is good because I never finished it. Unfortunately the system goes haywire every time I try to watch it, so I give up and just mess around with the map and other flight-related information. One of these destinations is less exotic or romantic than the others.

We'd been told that we were likely to arrive quite a bit ahead of schedule, but our descent into Doha is ridiculously slow and eventually we land at 2350 - admittedly 15 minutes early, but not the 50 minutes they'd claimed. Out of the window, Qatar looks dark and blurry.

Circling over Doha proper we land and I am still yet to receive a landing card to fill out. Surely there are landing cards required? Nope, apparently not. That's weird, to me at least. Anyway, as our descent gets really quite low the map on my screen suddenly turns into this, like, high-res scan of a military satellite map or something.

Doha Hamad airport isn't big enough for all the flights it serves, so a significant proportion of them just park up somewhere remote and you have to get a bus to the terminal. That's the case for us, and the bus takes TWENTY DAMN MINUTES because (a) it's a long way (b) we get stuck in a traffic jam. What? How is this a thing?

Inside the terminal, transfers is a zoo but no-one is heading to arrivals except me – but when I get there, there are tons of people queuing up. Looking confused works wonders, as a man sees my shiny wallet and says "business class? You can just proceed to the lounge sir".

Sure enough, there's a special business/first class lounge for arrival passengers with its own immigration desk. This is also where you pick up the voucher if you're staying in the affiliated hotel, and I end up being the only person in the queue not clutching one. Immigration takes a while though, but that's OK because it means I get to get connected to wifi plus talk to Helen.

Beyond the luggage carousels I fire up Uber and there are numerous drivers just a couple of minutes ago. The app does that thing where it says "Oh, you're at such-and-such airport, here's how things work there" and mentions east and west car parking. I see no signs to either and figure, y'know what, there's an arrivals lounge. How about I go there, get a diet coke, have a piss, and then ask someone where to catch my Uber.

The receptionist is hugely friendly and welcomes me to the arrivals lounge. Upstairs there is no-one. Not a soul. No staff, no punters, no-one. Just me. So obviously I wander around taking a bunch of photos of all the stuff.

For an arrivals lounge it's amazing. No booze, but there's free breads and other foods, soft drinks, a smoking room, showers, opulent toilets, open plan seating, private seating, and a 6-seater TV/entertainment room. And I have it all to myself. So, two tiny cans of diet coke with ice it is.

As I'm finishing the second, a man comes to ask me if I want anything else and seems downhearted when I decline. But by now it's almost 1am and I really do want to get an Uber. The receptionist confirms all I need to do is hail it and I'm by door 2 of arrivals and they'll show up. I avoid the only taxi tout of the whole evening – who got shooed out of the building by security as I was leaving – and go wait.

Sure enough, my driver shows up 5 minutes later. Apparently he'd tried to call me but couldn't get through to a UK number, and I'd been unable to properly track him since I lost internet when I stepped outside and I'm not about to pay the £6/mb roaming fees. He's a lovely chatty bloke, and tells me this is normally rush hour and the roads being quiet is very uncharacteristic. Well, good!

We drive through Doha proper along the Corniche and past the Souk Waqif and then into the diplomatic and business bit where my hotel is. We seem to have to spiral in a bit, but I'm not concerned by any randomly longer route he's taking because unlike any other Uber I've taken in any country before, the app took my money before I even got in the car. Wait, what? Yeah. Weird.

I go through security at the door, offering to empty my pockets before the man, bemused, points out there's no metal detector for me, only an x-ray machine for my bags. Oh yeah. Huh. Anyway, through the opulent lobby and I'm checked in to my room, on the 37th floor. Late checkout of 4pm is already arranged and I've got free internet access. It's 2am, time for bed.

OK not quite time for bed. How about, instead of that, time to mess around with the camera for, like, way too long trying to get decent night shots of the Doha skyline. I guess the adrenaline of getting here has combined with the caffeine of the diet coke and the new-toy novelty enough that I can spend, like, half an hour flailing with it, right?

My room is huge, to the point where the bathroom is itself three separate rooms all with distinct light switches. A big bath, a huge sink, a bidet, a loo, and a shower room. Overkill if you ask me. The TV is on a hinge so I can swing it around to whatever angle I want, so I make it face the bed before deciding none of the 105 channels are of interest and I'd rather listen to a podcast.

Getting online is harder than it should be. My access code doesn't work and I can't make the ludicrously complex VOIP phone get me to someone who can help, so I take my ipad 37 floors down to have a guy on reception tell me, oh, your code doesnt work, just type in <redacted code that works flr everyone>. Pfft!

Back upstairs again, I take my nighttime asthma tablet but not my nighttime asthma inhaler because apparently I've lost it during the day. Bollocks. I guess one of the many times I either went through security or otherwise had reason to take my coat off. Anyway it's gone 3am now and I!m shattered. Best wheeze myself to sleep.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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