David's Oslo Diary

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By the time Oslo came around, I was desperately in need of the holiday. Work was getting me down and I just needed to get away.

A couple of months earlier, Steve had managed to set a date and book some flights from our regular carrier, Ryanair. Along with Michael, he had then secured three nights at the supposedly luxurious SAS Radisson Scandinavia, which promised to be one of the best hotels we'd stayed in.

All was set for a fine winter break. Of course, Oslo had much to live up to. It was the long awaited return to Scandinavia and we expected much. It was also a widely held belief that the standard of comedy had been much less high in Barcelona than on either of the previous two breaks. Oslo couldn't possibly meet all these demands, could it?...

Tuesday, 30th November

When Michael told me over the phone on Monday evening that he had changed his plans and would be coming over on Tuesday after work, I was a little surprised. This was both positive and negative. On the plus side, we'd have time to fit in a feature, but it meant that I'd have to go to work during the Oslo Experience, something I wasn't looking forward to.

I managed to survive the day on Tuesday, leaving work at around six o'clock. I arrived home about an hour later, having done a quick shop at Tesco, and set about tidying up in preparation for Michael's arrival. Since I had missed Rupert on messenger, I telephoned him to see how he was doing and sort out plans for the following day. He said that he would let me know at lunch time on Wednesday, since he wasn't sure what time he'd be able to get away.

Shortly after finishing speaking to Rupert, there was a knock at the door. I answered to find Michael standing there. The Oslo Experience had begun. We greeted each other by acknowledging this and I helped Michael to bring the rest of his luggage into the house.

We decided to make some dinner and began to search my cupboards. I found a couple of jacket potatoes, a tin of beans, some cheese and a tin of tuna. This was a good start. It was then that I remembered that I hadn't bought any mayonnaise. This had been one of the main reasons for going to Tesco.

Annoyed with myself, I explained the situation to Michael and we decided to take a walk to the local Co-op. We talked excitedly about possibilities for the break and were soon back at my house with a jar of mayonnaise.

Once dinner had been prepared, we settled back on the glashtanmeid to watch a feature. The Julia Stiles flim The Business of Strangers had been selected for the evenings viewing. It proved to be rather strange, but still entertaining.

After the film had finished, I decided that it would be a good idea to get some sleep. It would be the last chance for a while, after all. I wished Michael a good night and headed up the stairs to bed.

Wednesday, 1st December

I woke up at about quarter past eight and was immediately depressed that I had to go to work. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable, so I got up and got myself ready. When I was dressed, I walked down the stairs and realised that Michael was awake. I offered him some breakfast, but he said that he was probably going to go back to sleep. I therefore decided to leave for work.

The plan was to do about three hours and then head for home, but I was doubtful that I'd be able to manage that. At work, I got myself a coffee and a doughnut and settled down at my desk to try to get something done.

Surprisingly, I managed to get into the work for a while, though my thoughts occasionally wandered, thinking about what Michael was up to. I was tempted to go home and watch a feature with him, but knew that I needed to set up some calculations first. When I decided that he was probably out running anyway, I settled into the work better, since there was no longer any point going home.

Once I had all the calculations set up and running, I realised that it was after twelve o'clock. It was time to leave. I packed up and hurried out to my car. I drove home, arriving at about half past twelve. Michael was in the lounge dressed in his running kit and looking exhausted. Apparently, it hadn't been the best of runs for him.

While he showered, I prepared a coffee and cookies for us to eat while watching a feature. Michael had been watching some Blackadder, so we watched the episode 'Head' and then a couple of episodes of The Office (Series One). By the time we had finished that, it was getting late in the afternoon and we decided to head off into Reading.

Michael didn't feel like much walking after his run, so we opted to take the car and park at the station. When we reached the station, we were fortunate enough to find the one remaining parking space on the free side of the tracks.

Leaving the car, we walked across to the ticket office. The miserable bloke had, predictably, already left, and we lacked the change for the machine, so we decided to buy tickets on the train.

Fortunately, the train arrived promptly and there was a guard on board, so I purchased two return tickets. Twenty minutes later we arrived in Reading. As the train doors opened, I darted off towards the exit, but Michael requested that I slow down. He was still feeling the effects of the run.

We checked out the usual feature shops, Michael purchasing a copy of LA Confidential for 99p, but that proved to be the only success of the day. Disappointed, we made for the coffee and muffin place in the Oracle centre.

I purchased a coke, a sausage roll and a muffin, Michael went for a prawn baguette, a coke and a muffin. We located a table by the window and sat down to eat.

We began to discuss the evening ahead. Neither of us knew what the deal was with Rupert and Chris. We were a little surprised that neither had yet spoken to us, but given that there was still time, we decided to forget it for a while.

After our late lunch, Michael wanted to check out a couple more shops, so we took a short walk around the Oracle. Having failed to find anything interesting, we both agreed that it was time for a trip to Starbucks. We crossed the river and entered the small Starbucks on the far side. It was quite busy, but one or two tables were becoming available.

Michael placed the order for two egg-nog lattes and while he waited to collect, I located the only remaining table and sat down. It was right beside the door and there was a disgusting half eaten muffin on the table, but we had no choice.

The egg-nog lattes soon arrived and we settled back to wait for the others. Having still not heard from either Chris or Rupert, we were becoming concerned. I was launching into a major slag off when Michael's phone rang. It was Chris. He was approaching Basingstoke and would be in Reading in about fifteen minutes. Michael told him that we were in Starbucks and suggested that he meet us there.

Twenty minutes or so later, Chris entered the coffee shop. He dumped his bags at our table and went to get another round of coffees in. Michael and I had conveniently just finished our egg-nog lattes and asked Chris to get us some gingerbread lattes.

When Chris returned we chatted for a while and explained that Rupert had not yet given any indication of his plans. I pointed out that if he hadn't left London yet, then he wouldn't make it in time for dinner. Michael agreed, though Chris seemed a little doubtful.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. I stepped out of the coffee shop to answer. It was Rupert. He was still in work and was just about to leave. I couldn't believe it! Even for Rupert, this was bad. Having promised to let me know at lunch time, he had left it until after five o'clock to get in touch.

Rupert suggested that he might be a little late to join us for dinner and offered to get himself a sandwhich on the way. I took him up on the offer. We had made plans and I wasn't happy that they were possibly being disrupted. Once again, our break would begin with a major cock up from Rupert.

I went back inside and told the others. Michael couldn't believe it either. I explained that I'd told Rupert he was too late for dinner and that we would eat without him. I wondered whether the others thought that I'd been a little hard on Rupert, but nothing was said. In any case, I thought Rupert deserved to miss out, and was not in the mood for arguing the point.

We finished our coffees and decided that it was time to make for home. We took a short cut through Debenhams and pointed out Johnson-opoly to Chris. The walk back to the station was otherwise uneventful, though Chris did try to lead us in the wrong direction at one point.

When we reached the platform, we discovered that it was crowded. There were two trains due in before ours though, so we hoped that it would clear a bit then. Michael and Chris seemed to be having second thoughts about Rupert. Against my wishes, they decided to phone him back and suggest that if he could get to my house by half past seven, then we'd wait for him. It turned out to be irrelevant. Rupert couldn't make it and was going to get something on the way.

At that point, a period of intense dicking around occurred. For once, Chris was not to blame. The train that was due in first on our platform was being terminated at Reading instead of travelling on to whatever should have been its destination. However, it appeared that nobody had told the passengers who were already on board, since they were still in their seats with the train occupying the platform.

The arrival time of our train had come and gone and still this cancelled service was at the platform. Worse, another train was due in before ours and nobody was providing any information.

Eventually, the passengers began to disembark the cancelled train and wander down the platform. Then all of a sudden, it was announced that our train would be coming in at another platform. We hurried over to the steps, climbed up to the bridge and went over the lines to the platform opposite. Here, we waited a few more minutes before our train arrived.

It seemed like everything was finally back on track as we boarded the train and sat down. However, the dicking around was far from over. We were left waiting another 10 minutes before the train finally left the station.

Back at Thatcham, we decided that it would be a good idea to go straight out for dinner. We got into Michael's car, thankul that we wouldn't have to walk all the way back to my house, and drove up to the Star Inn. There were plenty of tables available so we went to the back and sat down. Michael ordered a lemon chicken, I ordered scampi and Chris went for a chicken pie.

The meal was not entirely relaxing since we knew that we would have to get back for Rupert. We finished our main courses and decided to pass on dessert. Not having much time before Rupert's arrival, we paid the bill and left.

After a short drive to Thatcham station, we located Rupert waiting by the ticket office. As he climbed into the car, I said to Rupert, "Who are we then, Dixon of Dock Green?".

"Excuse me?" Rupert replied.

"Evening all", I explained.

I wasn't sure that he got the application, but I let it pass.

We returned to my house, and pulled out the sofa bed for Michael to sleep on. There was time for a short period of chilling before we had to punch the sack ready for an early start the next morning.

Thursday, 2nd December

My alarm went of at about a quarter to one in the morning. I hadn't slept much, but it was time to get moving. I hurried downstairs to make the coffee while the others made their way through the shower. Once everyone was showered and ready, we quickly drank our coffees.

Breakfast over, it was time for the others to load the car while I made sure that everything was switched off around the house. Once I was sure that the place was secure, I stepped outside and locked the door. The others had by now finished packing the car so I ran over and joined them.

We drove along the deserted streets, leaving Thatcham and heading out along the A4 towards Reading. We soon reached the M4 and headed towards London and the M25. Rupert rang Dave to make sure that he was on the way. It turned out that he was on time, with none of the problems that he had experienced for Barcelona.

The journey around the M25 was tedious, but fortunately we were entertained by the sounds of Busted and Bon Jovi. It was with relief that we turned onto the M11 and made our way out to Stansted.

As we approached the airport, thoughts turned to whether Steve would be there when we arrived. We decided not to try ringing in case he was still on the road. We passed a rather hideous accident on the other carriageway as we approached the exit for Stansted Airport, and hoped that it wasn't causing any delay in the other direction, that might affect Steve.

We soon arrived at the car park and found a space in the designated zone. Rupert rang Dave to see if he had arrived. It turned out that he had been in the terminal for a while. He also told us that Garfunkels had disappeared. I didn't believe him and asked Rupert to explain how Dave knew this. Rupert didn't know, so I had to wait until we arrived at the terminal.

Having unloaded the car, we hurried over to the bus stop and Chris pressed the button to request a bus. The guy who responded claimed that he knew nothing about it and suggested that a bus would be along anyway. Hoping that he was right, we settled in to wait.

Several minutes later, a bus indeed arrived. We boarded and sat down for our short ride to the terminal. When we arrived, we stepped off the bus and entered the terminal building. There were plenty of people about, but most were lying on the floor in sleeping bags. I was glad we hadn't spent the night there.

We realised that check-in had not yet opened, so we located Dave and decided to get a coffee at a nearby cafe. I mentioned Garfunkels to Dave and it seemed that he had forgotten that it had been moved to the other side of the security area. Relieved, I placed my order with Michael and went to find a table.

I secured a table and the others left their bags with me. Chris also decided to sit down. Michael, Dave and Rupert quickly placed an order for drinks and then came over to join us. Michael announced that he had just heard from Steve, who would be arriving at the terminal shortly. He said that he would go to meet him and bring him back to the cafe. A few moments later, Michael returned with Steve in tow. The company was complete.

By this time, we had acquired our drinks, though there had seemed to be some strange confusion between the waiters for a while. The problem revolved around Dave's coffee, which arrived late for some unknown reason. Anyway, we finally had our drinks, so we passed the time before check-in opened drinking our coffees and starting to discuss Oslo. Dave produced a large map to aid the discussion.

By the time we had finished our drinks and our conversation, we decided it was time to check in. We located the check in desk and, while the rest of us waited in the queue, Michael and Steve disappeared to locate a toilet. Steve also suggested that they might call in on Captain Mainwaring as they went past.

I was a little worried that Michael and Steve would not be back before we reached the front of the queue, but fortunately they made it just in time. There followed the usual ritual of handing over our passports one at a time and placing our bags on the conveyor belt, before being handed our boarding passes.

When we were all ready, we decided to make for Garfunkels. Rupert mentioned that he needed to pick up his currency that he had pre-ordered, but that the place wasn't yet opened. I suggested that some of us secure a table at Garfunkels while he did this.

Eventually, all of us except Rupert decided to head through to Garfunkels and get a table. We queued up at the security area and slowly made our way through. On the other side, I hurried over to Garfunkels and was soon joined by the others. We secured a table for six and sat down to consider the menu. There was not much to consider; obviously, I'd be going for the breakfast burger with a fried egg. A waitress came over and we placed an order, remembering to order for Rupert as well. He had asked us to get him an omelette.

Talk again turned to the break as we all wondered what was in store for us. Rupert eventually arrived, complete with foreign currency, and sat down to join us.

It was not long before the food arrived and there was a halt in the conversation while we ate. Afterwards, we made our slow way to the gate, remembering to hand our money over to the waiter, rather than just leave it on the table, since money tended to go walkabout in there.

On the way, there seemed to be a major amount of dicking around taking place up ahead. This caused Chris, Steve, Michael and myself to take the stairs instead of the escalator. It also seemed to encourage other people who were fed up with the dicking around to follow us. Rupert and Dave didn't seem bothered and carried on down the escalator. As it turned out, they made the better choice. We reached the bottom of a flight of stairs, only to discover that the door ahead of us was closed. Reluctant to push through, given that we might set off an alarm, we had no choice but to retrace our steps and hope to catch up with Dave and Rupert.

We managed to find them just as we entered the gate area. Reunited, we made our way to our gate, which seemed to be located down some stairs at the far end. By the time we arrived, we still had a considerable wait, so Rupert and I went to get some drinks in to pass the time.

Once boarding commenced, we took our seats, with Michael by the window, Steve in the middle, and me next to Steve. On the row in front were Chris, Dave and Rupert. While Chris settled back with a jumbo key word, Michael, Steve and I decided to get a coffee.

The views as we crossed over the mountains were incredible. The peaks were covered in snow and thick fog hung in the valleys. While we were taking this in, the pilot announced that there was a possibility that we would not be able to land at Torp, due to the fog, and would be diverted to Oslo's main airport. This suited us, as it would avoid the long bus ride into the city. However, we managed to land at Torp without incident.

We quickly exited the plane, crossed to the terminal and passed through passport control. We didn't have long to wait for our bags and soon found ourselves in the arrivals area. It wasn't entirely clear where to buy bus tickets, but we followed signs to the buses, hoping that we'd be able to get tickets on board.

There was a short queue for the bus, but from the sign on the door, it was clear that we could buy tickets from the driver. Attempting to work out how much it was going to cost, Rupert asked how many of us there were. Someone suggested that there were five, and Dave. This started a series of Blackadder applications, with Michael saying, "Five, and that one. And if I take that one and add him to those five, what does that make?"

I responded with, "A very small mission".

Michael continued, "Yes, and no. If I put this one with those five, what do I have."

Steve and I completed the application, "Ah, some Colonel's men!".

This provoked much hilarity and a rebuke from the bus driver, who shouted, "Could you calm down please."

I was shocked and a little annoyed at this rudeness, and commented that I had thought Norway was liberated from the Nazis after the Second World War. Ignoring the ignorant and humourless bus driver, I left Steve to pay for the tickets. As we moved along the aisle to sit down, I decided to impersonate the driver.

"Look, I realise that you are in the middle of the mother of all applications, but could you please calm down?" I said.

This seemed to cause much hilarity, and I expected another rebuke. None came.

We sat down towards the rear of the bus and settled back for the long journey into Oslo. For some reason, Rupert didn't want to sit next to me so, lacking anyone to hold a conversation with, I decided to make use of the time catching up on some much needed sleep. For a while, I watched the snow covered fields drift by, before I began to fall in and out of a light sleep. It was not until the buildings of Oslo came into view that I was able to rouse myself.

At the bus depot, we collected our luggage and wandered into a large shopping mall in search of the underground. After a few minutes, we halted, unsure of where to go next. While we were discussing what to do, a friendly Norwegian stopped to ask me if he could help. I explained that we were searching for the underground and he provided the necessary directions. We thanked him and continued on our way, our faith in Norwegians restored.

At the station, we purchased our tickets and located the correct train. Several minutes later, we emerged at the National Theatre station that we hoped would be near our hotel. As we reached the street, it seemed that we had arrived in the middle of a building site. It seemed that much of the main street was being redeveloped and was currently in a terrible state.

Negotiating the obstacles, we finally reached the pavement and headed in the direction of the hotel. At the corner of the street, we spotted the high rise building to our right and made directly for it. It wasn't quite clear where the entrance was, but eventually we managed to find it and reached the reception area.

Having checked in, we rode the elevator to the seventh floor and went to find our rooms. The first room on the corridor had been allocated to Michael and Chris. For some reason, Steve and I had been handed the keys to the other two, even though we would be sharing. We therefore decided to check out both rooms before deciding which one to take. Inevitably, they were almost identical, but Steve and I took our time before deciding on the last of the three, leaving Rupert and Dave the middle room.

After allowing time to unpack and freshen up, we decided to start the orientation day. We left the hotel and made immediately for the royal palace, which was only a few hundred yards away. It seemed strange that we could walk right up to the building, in complete contrast to Buckingham Palace, and I suggested that someone knock on the door and ask to speak to the King. Sadly, nobody took up the offer. We paused for the usual photos and then made for the main street, via a set of steps in front of the palace. Unfortunately, it seemed that the Norwegians didn't seem to worry about keeping the palace clear of snow and the steps proved treacherous. Eventually, we negotiated them, waded through a snow drift at the bottom, across a snow covered path, and finally arrived at the main street.

The road works that we had noticed earlier had destroyed the beauty of the area, though hopefully only temporarily. We investigated an ice rink in the square in the centre of the main street, suggesting that Moules on ice might be a possibility later in the break. Disappointingly, there seemed to be nowhere to buy glühwein, or whatever the Norwegian equivalent.

At the end of the street, Chris spotted a bank and decided that it would be a good time to change his 1000 kroner note. I could see some dicking around in progress. We left Chris to enter the bank and walked a little further on. A Salvation Army band was playing Christmas carols, so we stopped to listen and this gave Chris time to catch us up.

Thoughts had by now turned to lunch. We turned down a side street and spotted a likely place by the name of Da Vinci's. Deciding that it was a little cold to sit outside, we entered the bar area and found a table by the wall. As I studied the menu, I was a little shocked at the cost of the food. Most of us decided to order baked potatoes, which were relatively cheap, and Michael, Chris and I pushed the boat out and went for a hot chocolate. The food was adequate, but hardly worth the price. Things were not looking good.

Having paid the bill and left the restaurant, we decided to try to find somewhere to get a glühwein. Eventually, Michael spotted what seemed to be a Christmas market down a side street and we immediately made for it. We were to be disappointed. There were several tents in the square and a few stalls were inside, but the quality of wares on offer was nothing compared to Heidelberg or Salzburg. Finally, after leaving one of the tents, we noticed a group of people sitting round a fire. They were advertising a drink by the name of gløgg. We assumed that it must be the Norwegian equivalent of glühwein and eagerly went over to sample some. Everybody except Rupert, his usual unadventurous self, put in an order. I was a little surprised to be offered nuts and raisins in my drink, but I accepted. Once we had all been served, the Norwegians explained to Dave that if you made gløgg with wine, it could go badly wrong, so they didn't bother. We had just been shafted, and they were happy to admit it. The gløgg wasn't bad though and it certainly warmed us up on what was turning out to be a rather cold day.

Nicely warmed up, our walk continued past the cathedral and then into a shopping mall, where some minor dicking around occurred while Steve searched for some gloves. Failing to find any, we departed, pausing so that Chris and I could have our photographs taken with a huge tiger.

Continuing with our orientation, we headed for the waterfront, hoping to find something to do. We had to cross a rather busy road via a metal bridge. Unfortunately, the metal grating that comprised the footway over the bridge had holes in it that allowed us to see the road beneath. It was a disturbing sensation. Once on the other side, we seemed to be in quite an industrial port area. There didn't seem to be anything in the way of entertainment so we found another way across the road and into a small park.

After wandering along some narrow streets, we emerged near the castle. Michael found a statue and immediately paused for a recreation. That completed, we made for the drawbridge into the castle.

A guard was on duty in the courtyard and kept marching out onto the drawbridge, turning around and marching back to his guard hut. We debated whether we'd have to fight our way past him, but eventually decided to dash through the gates while his back was turned. This successfully accomplished, we made our way over to the walls and climbed up. The top of the wall was rather icy, and there was nothing to stop us from slipping over the far side and falling a hundred feet to the road below. It was a little worrying.

By now, the night was drawing in, even though it was still mid afternoon. The reality of short winter days in Norway was becoming apparent. Unfazed by this observation, we lingered a while, invesigating the cannons that had been strategically placed around the wall and taking the obligatory pictures.

Eventually, we continued up the hill to another courtyard, where a drawbridge led into the central keep. Unsure whether we'd need to pay to go any further and not sure that it would be open for much longer anyway, we decided to continue our progress around the outside.

Michael attempted to walk up a hill behind the keep, but was repulsed by a guard. My suggestion for a surprise counter attack was brushed aside, so we beat a hasty retreat and found another way to get onto the section of wall that we hadn't investigated. Even though the walls here had a narrow path running along the top that was relatively even, the ice here made this section even more treacherous than the last. The view of the bay was well worth the risks, though, and we spent some time taking it in.

Completing our tour of the walls, and with darkness now enveloping us, we decided to return to the hotel and get ready for the evening meal. We found some steps that led us down from the wall and onto a track that led to the rear entrance to the castle. Dave took it rather carefully down the steps as he was worried about slipping on the ice and damaging his knee. Fortunately, we all made it safely, and left the castle via the rear gate. We headed straight through the centre of Oslo, pausing only to observe the strangely Stalinist town hall, before arriving back at the hotel.

Michael, Chris, Rupert and I made immediately for the swimming pool, hoping for some relaxation before the evening meal. Michael located a sauna inside the male changing rooms and informed us that it was currently vacant. The others seemed keen on taking advantage of this, though I was not that thrilled about the sauna idea. Against my better judgment, I followed the others into the sauna and we sat down on the rather warm benches. Michael turned over the egg timer by the door and the endurance race began. It seemed hours before the time was finally up, and I was feeling distinctly uncomfortable after the extreme heat.

We made our way into the swimming pool and jumped in. It was absolutely freezing. Using the sauna first, although mainly motivated by a desire not to share it with naked Norwegians, had proved a grave mistake. Our swim was cut rather short as a result, and we were soon back in our rooms getting ready for the night out.

It had been decided that we would stop at Andy's bar on the main street for a drink before trying to find a restaurant. Andy's was a sports bar, with television screens showing footbal matches. We found a table towards the rear and sat down. The drinks were disturbingly expensive so we only stayed for one round before moving on to the restaurant.

Dave had suggested a couple of places that served traditional Norwegian fare, so we decided to check them out. Arriving at the first, it seemed that it was a buffet, though there was some doubt about this. Not really in the mood for a buffet dinner, we decided to try the other one. Unfortunately, this turned out to be closed. Things were not going well, and it was only day one. We headed towards the old town and located several restaurants but they were all extremely expensive. Outside an Italian restaurant, a friendly waiter tried to entice us inside. However, we couldn't really bring ourselves to eat Italian on the first night, though we decided that it looked like a likely choice for the final night meal. Sadly this didn't help with our current predicament. We eventually made it into the bay area after crossing a rather icy path and finally found a suitable restaurant. We immediately tried to grab a table, but the waiter informed us that they were completely full. This was a shattering blow. We had no option but to head back to the old town, where we had located a possible restaurant, but had rejected it on the grounds that it was completely empty. Now having no other options, we returned to this restaurant.

When we arrived, we noticed that there was one couple dining at a table by the window, but otherwise the place was completely deserted. However, the food was at least affordable, and we obviously would have no trouble getting a table so we despatched Steve, our waitress liason officer, to get a table for six.

Finally seated, we perused the menu. Even here, most things were extremely expensive and we were starting to get a little depressed at the situation. Everyone was careful to keep costs down when it came to ordering. Michael and I went for the burger, at ten pounds or so the cheapest item on the menu. The others were a bit more ambitious, though Dave declined a drink in order to save money. Having reached a low point, we resolved to search the guide book for some cheap eats the following evening. Fortunately, the food turned out to be rather good, so this cheered us up a little.

After the meal, we headed back to the hotel. In order to get inside, we were forced to push through the crowds of sad wasters who were standing outside in the freezing Oslo streets in their smart evening dress, just so that they could satisfy their disgusting nicotine habit. The smoking ban in Oslo was certainly a wonderful thing and seeing these people suffer for their anti-social habit certainly cheered me up.

We had decided to have a drink in the hotel bar before punching the sack for the evening, so we made our way up to the twenty-first floor. The bar, Summit 21, was busy, but we managed to secure an area in the corner that afforded spectacular views over the city. My orange juice turned out to be the most amazing that I had ever tasted, which made the burden of cost an easier one to bear. It was no more expensive than anywhere else in the city, at any rate.

When we had finished our drinks, we returned to our rooms thoroughly tired and in need of a good night's sleep before day two.

Friday, 3rd December

When Steve and I had both been through the shower and got dressed for the day, we decided to head down to breakfast and see what was on offer. We decided that we would knock on Michael's door on the way, in case he was ready. We found him a little annoyed with Chris, who had been in the shower for ages. After a short argument, Michael decided to leave Chris and go down to breakfast with us.

Having successfully found our way to the dining room and given our room numbers to the friendly Norwegian on duty, we wandered over to check out the breakfast options. Along one wall were the hot selections, and in two islands in the middle were the arrays of cheese, cold meat, smoked salmon and fruit. By the windows was the coffee, tea and hot chocolate and some croissants and bread. I went for smoked salmon and croissants first, meaning to check out the hot food later.

Returning to the table, I noticed that Steve had located the orange juice, but was a bit annoyed by the person in the queue in front of him, who had filled his glass, downed it and got another immediately. Steve thought this was a bit out of order and I had to agree.

As we tucked into our breakfast, the others gradually arrived. I made sure to return for some hot food, but it was a bit of a disappointment. We talked a little about plans for the day, noticing that it was still dark outside, despite being well after nine o'clock. The plan seemed to be to head up to the Holmenkollen, a huge hill just outside the city and visit a ski jump and the town of Frognerseteren. Steve had decided, given the cost of food, to make himself a sandwich from the breakfast items and take it with him. I was not convinced that it would travel well crammed in his pocket.

As we left the restaurant, we noticed a house that seemed to be made entirely out of food, but on closer inspection, it turned out that it was mainly cardboard with some icing and bits of confectionary stuck to it. We were disappointed.

A short stop at our rooms was enough for us to get ready for the day. I put on some warm clothes and picked up my camera before heading out. Steve and I took the lift down to the lobby and met the others.

We walked back to the main street and boarded a train at National Theatre Station. Shortly, we arrived at Majortuen, where we needed to change trains. We disembarked and waited on the freezing platform for the next train. There were a number of people arond wearing skiing jackets and carrying skis, clearly waiting for the same train as us.

Eventually, it arrived and we found some seats. The train soon left Oslo and started to climb up the hill. The views from the train were rather impressive and we could see that we were getting rather high and passing many small ski jumps on route. After some time, the train pulled into Holmenkollen station where we disembarked along with a few other people. Most of the passengers seemed to be heading further up, which seemed a little surprising.

There was only one exit from the platform, so we walked up the slope and arrived at a road. The ski jump was somewhere above us, so we crossed the road and walked up a snow covered track on the other side. After a short climb, we arrived outside a restaurant which stood on a plateau that afforded excellent views of the area. I suggested it as a final night meal venue, but this was soon vetoed on the grounds that it was far too remote. I had to conceed it was a fair point.

We managed to take a few photos and throw a few snowballs, some at each other and some simply launched off the side of the hill, before moving on. A flight of very slippery steps led us up to another road, which seemed to lead to the ski jump. As we walked along, a small convoy of trucks drove past carrying a full load of snow in the back. This seemed bizarre behaviour and we could not really explain why they felt it necessary to move huge quantities of snow around.

On the way up to the ski jump, the road branched off to the left. This route seemed to lead up to some sort of lodge. We decided to investigate and so took the short walk up the hill and around a corner to the front of the building. It was indeed a hotel and looked rather impressive. The views from the front of the hotel were even more impressive than those by the restaurants and Shaft, Eric and the Little Lucky Leprechaun posed for some photographs.

Having looked around, we walked back down the hill to the road and carried on along it until we reached the ski jump. It was absolutely huge. Since it was on the side of a hill, and we were at the top, we found ourselves halfway up the jump, looking down on the landing area, that was filled with water and ice, indicating that it clearly wasn't well used. Above us, a tower had been built to extend the jump well above ground level. It truly was an imposing structure.

Wandering around to the other side, we noticed a gift shop, which we made for, hoping that there would be somewhere to get a hot drink. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be anywhere to get refreshments, so we had to content ourselves with a quick pot stop before deciding on our next plan. There seemed to be a church spire in the distance, sticking up above the tree tops and we decided to make for it. As we walked down the hill, I noticed Dave throw a huge snowball up in the air. I managed to duck out of the way just in time. It seemed that it would hit Michael in the back, but he too managed to evade the missile. Chris was not so fortunate and it struck him right on his rear. Michael and I burst out laughing and immediately came under suspicion, but fortunately Dave was only too happy to take the credit.

We soon found ourselves on a cross country ski route and followed it down the hill towards the church. When the trail divided, we took the route that led over a bridge and on into the woods. After a while, we arrived outside the church where we discovered a huge pile of very large snowballs. Rupert lifted one up and carried it over to us. Michael decided to get one of his own. When they posed for a photo, I joined them with an ordinary sized snowball.

Meanwhile, Dave was investigating the church, but it seemed that it was all locked up and there was no way to get inside. Disappointed, we descended some steps to the road. It was time to move on to Frognerseteren, a village on the far side of the hill. However, we needed to decide how to get there. The options were either to walk back to the station and take the train, or to walk the mile or so to Frognerseteren following the road. Since it was a bit of a way back to the station and we were enjoying being out in the snow in any case, we decided to walk.

We crossed the road and began to walk along beside it up the hill. As we went, we noticed that the fog was starting to descend into the valley to our right. Steve commented that the fog was getting thicker, to which Michael and I responded, "And Moules is getting larger!". The Airplane! application seemed to go down well.

After several minutes of walking up hill, Steve became a little peckish and started to eat the sandwich that he had been storing in his pocket. As I had suspected, the quality had deteriorated severely since breakfast.

A little further along the road, we encountered a ski trail that crossed via a bridge and disappeared into the trees below us. We speculated that it must lead to Frognerseteren and decided to follow it, so we crossed the bridge and continued into the woods. The snow on the trail was compacted so it was surprisingly easy to walk on. Occasionally we were passed by a skier, but mostly we had the trail to ourselves.

Walking through the snow covered forest was an amazing experience and we soon left Dave far behind us as he was finding so much material for his digital camera. Eventually, he was out of sight and we decided that we had better wait. Moments later, a person appeared in the distance coming up the hill. Not being able to see more than the head at first, we assumed that it was Dave impersonating a cross country skier, but as he reached the top of the hill and came towards us, it became clear that it actually was a cross country skier. The real Dave appeared some time later, walking normally.

Eventually, the trees started to thin and we came across a look out point with incredible views over the Oslo area. For some reason, Rupert decided to remove his coat and jumper and walked around in just a t-shirt. We were all mighty impressed at this manly display. Having had his moment, Rupert dressed again so that we could continue.

We soon reached the edge of the village, passing a couple of houses on stilts. Around the next corner, we appeared to have reached the centre of the village. I walked back up to the road, which was now just above us, crossed over and made for a large building on a plateau above our position. It seemed to be a cafe and restaurant, so I suggested stopping for a hot drink. The others agreed, so we went inside.

Towards the rear of the building was the cafeteria area. We had a look at the options and decided on the hot chocolate. The cups were tiny and the prices were outrageous, so Michael and I availed ourselves of the "free" refills. Since it was self service, we filled our cups, drank as much as we could and filled them up again, before going over to the counter to pay. Michael and Chris had elected to get some cakes, but I didn't really feel like food, needing only a hot drink.

We carried our drinks through to what looked like an old Viking hall and sat down at a long table. As we sipped our drinks, in an effort to make them last, and talked about the day, Dave spent about half an hour setting up his digital camera to take a photo of the chandelier above him, that resembled a set of antlers.

After finishing our refreshments, we decided to investigate the village. A small road led up the hill behind the cafe and so we decided to walk in that direction. Eventually, we arrived at the station and decided to attempt to find out when the next train was due. There didn't seem to be a timetable though, but we did find a map of the area on the other side of the railway line. This showed some trails leading into the forest, eventually arriving at a lake at the top of the hill. We decided that it would make for an interesting walk.

We headed off down a track into the trees and eventually reached what seemed to be another road, though the depth of the snow was now making it difficult to determine. We followed this new road until we reached a clearing in the trees. It seemed that the lake must be right in front of us, but the snow made it impossible to tell exactly where. I carried on walking out into the snow to try to find the edge of the lake. Eventually, I realised that I was actually walking on it. There was a layer of very thick ice below a thick covering of snow. I tested the ice for strength and decided that I could probably make it all the way to the other side of the lake but, given the distance, I decided not to risk it.

The walk along beside the lake brought us to a car park. Here, we posed for photos with the lake in the background. Once the pictures had been taken, a snowball fight broke out with myself and Michael taking on Rupert and Chris. While the fight was still in full force, Dave disappeared down the hill beside the car park. It seemed he had decided to make for Voksenkollen station, which was now the nearest to us. Steve and Amal soon followed and we decided to continue the fight on the move.

Michael escalated things when he picked up a huge armful of snow and dumped it over Chris. This resulted in all of us trying to throw the largest possible snowballs over each other. Eventually, the fight was brought to an end as we reached the station.

While we were waiting for the train, we noticed a large group of young children arrive, all in their winter gear, accompanied by a few adults. We immediately dubbed them the junior Colonel's men. Suddenly, the junior Moules picked up a plastic sled, carried it to the top of a rather steep bank and slid down. Disaster was inevitable as his sled capsized and he ended up flat on his face in the snow. Undeterred, he ran back to the rest of the junior Colonel's men, laughing about his exploits.

Finally, the train arrived and we boarded, locating six seats in the middle of our train for the ride down the mountain. After a few stops, we commented on the gong that was sounding to announce the approaching station. I mentioned that it sounded like the gong at the end of Knightmare. Michael immediately came back with a quote from the programme and this led to us saying "Well team!" each time the gong sounded. After about three stops, Rupert, Steve and Chris grew weary of the joke, but Michael, Dave and I kept it going all the way down the mountain. Eventually, we suspected that the nearby Norwegians must be getting a little tired of the joke. I commented that they probably didn't even like Knightmare when it was on.

At Majorstuen, we disembarked and started to think about getting some food. Dave had suggested visiting a park full of statues, but I thought that it would be a good idea to get something to eat on the way.

Just outside the station, we located a small shop that sold hot dogs. While Chris and Steve put an order in, Michael and I checked out the large array of chocolate bars on offer. We eventually settled on one with the amusing name of Kvikk Lunsj, and quickly added a couple of bars to Chris' order. We also purchased a bottle of coke each.

The hot dogs proved to be rather good, but the Kvikk Lunsj, which we divided among the six of us, was extremely disappointed. It was basically a Kit Kat. In fact, we all decided that it wouldn't really make a very good lunch at all, though we had to agree that it would be rather quick.

Having eaten, we continued on towards the park. We walked along the waterfront area, past the castle until we came to a large grass bank. We climbed up to discover what looked like a running track that had been iced over to create a skating rink. Several people were out skating, though the light was rapidly failing.

We walked along the bank until we came to a car park at the far end. Descending into the car park, the snowball fight resumed, with Michael and I trying to throw extremely large snowballs over Chris. Finally tiring, we wandered past some tennis courts and entered the park. Michael decided to throw away his coke bottle and was shocked to find that the bin was much larger inside than it looked from the outside. I came over to investigate. It seemed that a huge cavern had been dug out underneath the bin and this was about half full of rubbish.

Wandering along the snow covered paths, we soon came to a bridge across a frozen river. Along the bridge were several statues of naked people in various strange poses. The nakedness continued on the other side as we discovered a really strange fountain with a central dish supported by more naked people. Rupert and I attempted to throw snowballs into the dish but sadly failed. Further along, there was a tall column that seemed to consist entirely of more naked stone figures. Things were just getting more and more strange. Around the base of the column were more weird sculptures. One seemed to be a recreation of the largest orm in the world. I attempted to orm on top of it while pictures were taken.

As we wandered up some steps on the far side, I threw a snowball at the column of naked people, managing to strike it about halfway up. At that point, some dicking around seemed to be occurring, so I decided to walk across a field to investigate another statue. Michael also seemed a bit fed up and followed me. The statue turned out to be a sun dial, and wasn't all that interesting, but we spotted a lookout point a little further across the field and decided we might as well check that out as well.

It turned out to be a view over the far end of the park, and we took a few moments to take in the view. By this time, darkness was almost complete and the park was not well lit, so we decided to return to the others, who had not bothered to come with us. Reunited, we left the park and made for the nearest station to get a train back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, Michael was keen to head down to the gym, but I had been unimpressed by the facilities on offer. We decided that I would go down to the pool while Michael went to the gym and then he'd come through for a swim afterwards. Plans made, Rupert, Steve, Chris and I headed for the pool, Michael went to the gym and Dave stayed in his room. We had a pleasant swim and Michael soon joined us, having finished his workout on the treadmill. He informed us that the gym was a bit basic, which had been my first impression.

After we'd had enough of the pool, Michael, Rupert, Chris and I went for a quick sauna. Steve had long since had enough and headed back to the room to get ready to go out. As usual, the sauna proved to be a real trial and I was pleased to survive the fifteen minutes. We were also pleased not to encounter any naked Norwegians.

Returning to our rooms, we agreed to meet at Summit 21 for a drink before heading out for the evening. I went straight for the shower; Steve, having made good use of the time since he'd been back at the room, was already dressed up for the evening. Following a quick shower, I was also ready for the evening.

We wandered up to Summit 21, finding that Rupert and Dave perched by the window. We got some drinks, with me opting for another of their quality orange juices. It didn't disappoint. Michael and Chris soon joined us as we continued to admire the views of the city. Shortly, a table became available in the middle of the room and we were quick to grab it. This allowed us to stay a little longer before trying to find a restaurant.

With the disappointments of the previous evening still firmly in the memory, Dave had decided that we should make for Gronland, where the cheaper restaurants resided. This meant a short journey on the train, so we took our favourite walk down to National Theatre station. Once at Gronland, I wondered what we'd let ourselves in for. There were some mentalists dicking around inside the station and they seemed to be up to no good. Outside, things didn't improve much. We were certainly in a lower class area of the city.

Wandering down a nearby street, we paused outside a bar. There was some talk of going in, but most of the places seemed rather seedy to me so I was against it. After some discussion, we moved on. At a restaurant a little further along, we sent Rupert and Steve in to find a table. Again, it was against my better judgement, but I was out-voted. Fortunately, I was saved when it emerged that there were no tables.

By this time, we were getting a little disgruntled. Most of the restaurants seemed to be full and I also pointed out that they were extremely seedy. This seemed to provoke a reaction from Dave, who took exception to my comments, apparently taking them as personal criticism. I hadn't meant them that way, realising that the decision had been made in order to find a reasonably priced meal. I simply wanted to make my opinion known that this attempt had failed.

With all of us getting hungry and no obvious place to eat, the break was once again on a knife edge. Michael stepped in and suggested that we find a pub and get a drink while we planned our next move. This decision was readily accepted. We decided to walk back towards the centre of town and stop in the first bar that we came to. It wasn't long before we found one.

The others crowded around the bar hoping to get served, but I was left standing behind them. Suddenly, a man who was wandering past asked me where I came from. When I explained that I was English, he simply said, "Okay", and wandered off to find a table. By that time, Michael and Rupert had decided to leave the others to deal with the drinks and suggested that we find a table. The place was not busy, so we had the pick of the tables. We chose a large circular table not too far from the bar and slid into the seats around it. I spotted the guy that had spoken to me earlier, sitting several tables away, and pointed him out to the others. Suddenly, it seemed that the man had also spotted me, because he picked up his drink and came over to sit at our table. When Steve, Dave and Chris arrived with the drinks, they were a little surprised that we had a new friend.

As we talked, the Norwegian seemed to be taking quite an interest in the conversation. It was not long before he decided to join in and he had soon struck up quite a rapport with Dave. Soon, we were talking about the high prices in Oslo and our new friend clearly felt the same way. He explained that he could only afford to go out for a drink one night a week. We realised how lucky we were that this was his night. For some reason, he felt the need to inform us that he was from the working classes, but we quickly reassured him by explaining that so was Steve. Realising that he now had a chance to get to know our new friend, Steve decided to try some Geordie on him. The man was stunned. He claimed that it was almost identical to Norwegian. We were much amused, though Dave seemed a bit put out that all his early work was for nought as Steve had clearly usurped him with our new associate.

In fact, they were soon discussing one of Steve's favourite topics - the weather. The Norwegian explained that the snow we were currently experiencing was actually a rare occurrance at that time of year. He expressed his belief that it would all be gone within a few days. He also made the dubious claim that by Monday, it would be several degrees warmer in Oslo than in London. Later, Michael, Steve and I decided that he must have developed his own climate model that allowed him to make these predictions. Steve immediately thought about a collaboration.

Taking advantage of our new relationship, we asked the Norwegian if he could suggest somewhere for us to eat. He seemed incredulous that we'd expressed an interest in trying Norwegian food, but he never-the-less suggested a likely place and provided some handy directions. At this point we decided to take our leave. However, we couldn't go without finding out our new friend's name. Of course, it was Steve that asked the question, and the man replied that his name was Tomas.

Bidding farewell to Tomas, we left the pub and walked further along the street until we came to the place that Tomas had described. It was down a small side street just off the main road and then up a flight of stairs. At the top, we entered the restaurant and set about finding a table. A quick inquiry resulted in us being directed to the bar section downstairs, as there were no tables in the main restaurant.

Arriving in the bar, Steve did the job of getting us a table and we were soon seated near the window. Having scanned the menu, we had determined that the single Norwegian option, some sort of rancid fish, was a little too expensive, so I went for the weinerschnitzel instead. Steve chose likewise. Michael, wanting to stick with the Scandinavian options, went for the Swedish stew. There was much comedy over dinner as we relived the Tomas incident over and over again.

After we had finished our main courses, which were passable, but nothing spectacular, we opted to go for dessert, being tempted by the apple cake. A round of apple cake was duly ordered and it certainly didn't disappoint.

When the meal was completed, we decided to walk back into the centre, which turned out to be not too far away. As we reached the end of the main street, we noticed a traffic cone lying around. It was the only one we had seen so far, and the opportunity seemed too good to miss. The only problem was that two policemen were standing just across the street. All seemed lost when suddenly the two officers descended on a poor, defenceless Father Christmas and bundled him into the back of a van. Taking advantage of the distraction, Michael picked up the cone and shouted, "Stop telling me what to do!" while I took the picture.

This success behind us, we dived into the Churchill pub for a quick drink before heading back to the hotel. We managed to grab a nice, comfortable alcove to the rear of the pub and make it our own. Around the walls were pictures of the local football team, who seemed to play in Newcastle United colours, so Steve felt quite at home. After a relaxing drink, we wandered back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Saturday, 4th December

As we were leaving for breakfast, Steve and I were joined by Michael, who had decided not to wait for Chris. We helped ourselves to the breakfast options and sat down at a table to wait for the others to arrive. Once everyone was tucking into their food, we started a discussion to determine our plan for the day. Several options were suggested, but it came down to a choice of two. Either we would attempt to find a way to get to the Castle Arrghh, or we would go to a nearby viking ship museum. The latter option sounded like a dicking around paradise to me, so I was firmly backing the first option. Fortunately, it was the first option that won the day.

Breakfast completed, we returned to our rooms, collected our coats and set off for the day. We decided to make for the castle that we had visited on our orientation day and see if we could find out how to get to the Castle Arrghh from there. On the way, we stopped in a few shops to search for a mascot. I spotted a rather cute baby seal that I decided should be the mascot. Unfortunately, nobody else agreed and we eventually settled on a reindeer who was wearing a woolen sweater with a Norwegian flag on the front of it. He was immediately named Gløgg. I also decided to get the baby seal, just in case.

Continuing our journey, we arrived at the castle, but could find no obvious way to reach the Castle Arrgh. Disappointed, the dicking around boys immediately started to gear up for a museum trip, while I tried desperately to think of an alternative. Sadly, the bus to the viking ship museum arrived before anything had sprung to mind, so I reluctantly followed the others.

It was a reasonably lengthy ride, and we eventually decided to get off at the folk museum, one stop away from the viking ship museum, and walk from there. The driver seemed a little concerned that we were getting off one stop early and desperately tried to persuade us to stay on board. We attempted to communicate to him that we were happy to walk, but he didn't seem to understand. After a few seconds, he evidently decided to give up and drive on, but not before he had driven after us a short way, opened the doors and tried to persuade us to get back on the bus.

The walk along the snow covered pavements was treacherous, but we eventually reached the viking ship museum. Michael and I decided that it was time to throw a few snowballs before we went inside. Following the others in, I was a little disappointed to discover that there was an entrance charge. However, it turned out to be relatively cheap, so I paid up and went inside.

The ships themselves were worth seeing; the two that were relatively intact at least. The third ship was in a rather sad state and seemed a bit of a pointless addition. It didn't take us long to check out the museum, it being rather small. The raised platforms in the centre that gave views of the ships from above provided some distraction, but when we reached the far end of the museum, we found ourselves trapped in what could only be regarded as a boringamede.

There were several glass cases containing rotting bits of leather and some rusty metal that they claimed had once been swords. Michael and I were soon fed up of this and decided to move on. We located Steve, who had also had enough and we wandered over to the door to wait for the others. Not surprisingly, Chris and Rupert found the whole thing extremely exciting and interesting.

Eventually, having prised the others away from the boringamede, we headed out of the museum to continue our walk. The walk was interrupted by several snowball incidents and a few occurrances of our new favourite entertainment - picking up a huge armful of snow and dumping it over someone's head. By the time we reached another set of museums, located in the bay, we were all feeling rather cold.

Dave was keen to do some dicking around, but we were keen to get some hot drinks first. There was a handy cafe just opposite the museums, so we headed inside and bought in a round of hot chocolates. The drinks seemed to do the trick and we were soon ready for a walk around the Oslofjord.

The views were impressive and it seemed an appropriate moment for a mascot photo. We extracted the mascots from the various bags and lined them up beside a handily placed anchor. Several photos were taken and I was just about to move in and collect the mascots when I saw Rupert launch a snowball at them. It landed right in the middle of the mascots and scattered them. I was appalled. Michael quickly checked for damage, discovering that Eric's helmet had been broken. This annoyed me even more and I berated Rupert for his stupidity. What stunned me even more was that everyone else, other than Michael, seemed to think that nothing serious had happened and, as usual, stepped in to defend Rupert.

Rupert, duly reassured, explained that he had only meant to throw a snowball over the heads of the mascots and had misjudged the throw. This seemed to be no excuse to me, as he knew that Eric was fragile and should have been more careful. I kicked his rucksack a couple of times in disgust.

Dave, ever keen to do some dicking around, suggested a visit to one of the museums. I was in no mood for this, especially as the museum looked extremely boring, so I declined. I had hoped that at least one of the others would opt to keep me company, but it seemed not, and they all duly went inside.

I decided to take a walk to calm down, and wandered off around the coastline. At the far side of the museum, I climbed a hill and wandered across to another inlet but, though providing another interesting view, this proved to be a dead end. Disappointed, I tried to get around the Oslofjord in the other direction, but this too proved impossible, as there seemed to be a row of private houses around the coastline that prevented me reaching the edge.

When I returned, I was surprised that they hadn't emerged from the museum. Not knowing what else to do, I returned to the scene of Rupert's crime and attempted to find the missing piece of Eric's helmet, in the hope that it could be reattached at a later date. I dug around in the snow for a while, but failed to find anything and my fingers were rapidly going numb with cold. By now I was completely frozen and there was still no sign of anyone coming out of the museum, which was starting to annoy me. In fact, I was contemplating getting the bus back to the hotel.

Finally, Michael and Steve emerged, and seemed surprised that I thought that it was out of order that they should all clear off into the museum for so long without me. However, there was no point in arguing since my anger was mainly directed at Rupert, who didn't seem to accept that he'd done anything wrong and didn't seem to care anyway.

At long last, we caught the bus back to the centre of town. It had been decided that it was time for some Moules on ice action, so we headed straight for the ice rink on the main street. While Chris picked out some skates, the rest of us purchased some hot drinks. Most of us played safe with hot chocolate but Rupert went for some weird concoction that turned out to be hot Ribena.

We were entertained for a while by Chris' exploits on the ice, especially when Reardon accompanied him on a couple of laps. Unfortunately, it was quickly getting dark and very cold. I was really starting to feel the effects of the morning walk as snow had got into my shoes and melted so that my feet were very wet and made the cold seem even worse. The others too seemed to be feeling the cold and I was relieved when they suggested nipping across to Andy's bar for a drink.

Leaving Chris to complete his skating, we hurried over the road and into the bar, which was rather busy. We managed to prop ourselves up at the end of the bar and get a round of drinks in. Everyone seemed to be watching the football match on the big screen and Steve was disappointed to see his team lose. After the match, we secured a table and sat down for a welcome rest. A random Norwegian approached to see whether we'd like to watch Manchester United or Arsenal. We didn't really mind. Arsenal seemed to have won his makeshift ballot and were featured on the big screen. We settled in to watch.

Chris joined us in time to catch the end of the match, at which point we decided to head back to the hotel and prepare for the evening. Having returned to our rooms, Michael, Chris, Rupert and I made for the pool, leaving Steve and Dave in their rooms. I wasn't sure whether they'd leave for the stammtisch early while we were still in the pool, but I left it for Steve to decide.

Down at the pool, we checked out the sauna. It was full of naked Norwegians, so we decided to have a swim and try again later. Michael and Chris soon tired of swimming, finding the pool a little cold, so we had another look to see if the sauna was free. Unfortunately, it wasn't, so it was decided that Michael and Chris would return to their room. Rupert seemed keen to wait on the sauna, so I said we'd spend a bit more time in the pool in case the sauna became available. Several minutes later, Rupert tried again, but the naked Norwegians were clearly settled in for the evening and we decided not to join them.

Disappointed, we headed back up to our rooms. I wasn't sure whether Steve would still be there but, to my surprise, he was still reading his Dan Brown book when I entered the room. I promised that I would be quick getting ready, and hurried into the shower. A few minutes later, I was dressed and ready for the evening, so we departed hoping that we wouldn't run into any of the others on the way down.

Outside, the snow was still coming down and it was extremely cold. We walked quickly across to the main street and negotiated our way around the construction site. I wondered whether anyone would have arrived already, speculating that we might be first, but that Michael and Chris could have beaten us. Dave was also an unknown quantity and I wasn't sure he would have waited for Rupert.

We finally made it to Andy's bar. I didn't immediately see anyone and started to think that we had arrived first. Eventually, we discovered Michael and Chris sitting towards the back of the bar. This was slightly disappointing, but we wandered over and greeted them before getting some drinks.

About half an hour later, Rupert and Dave finally turned up and the stammtisch was complete. We purchased another round of expensive drinks and spent a while chilling before deciding that it was time to head out for the final night meal. The restaurant we had chosen was the Italian restaurant we had discovered on the first night. We soon located the restaurant Medallion and entered. Descending some stairs, we were directed to a long table for six.

I began to peruse the menu, which was looking rather good, while Michael prepared the paper for the draw. The first order of the evening was to draw for the order in which destinations would be revealed. This was followed by a draw for the mascots. Dave drew Amal, Steve drew the Little Lucky Leprechaun, Chris drew Kurt, Michael selected Shaft, while I was disappointed to end up with Grosser Vass. Rupert, of course, would be Reardon, as he'd somehow won the pool tournament.

We placed our orders for starters and main courses and also for drinks. I quickly concealed my wine glass, knowing that we would need it later for the draw. When the drinks had arrived, we began the process of revealing the destinations. As Reardon, Rupert began the procedure, comfirming that Reardon's choice would be:


Steve was next and he touchingly held to our old bargain and revealed:


I was next up and, pleased with the way things were going, decided to add to the variety with:


At this point, we were interrupted as the starters had arrived. Michael and I had ordered the fish soup and it looked rather good. We were pleased with our choice. Once all the starters had arrived, except for Dave's, the waiter placed a bowl of fish soup in front of him, saying, "And for you, sir, the hot dogs". We immediately knew that we had a comedian on our hands.

Keen to move along, Dave decided to reveal Amal's choice. While I enjoyed the fish soup, which was excellent, Dave revealed, on behalf of Amal:


Michael seemed a bit disappointed, but I wasn't too concerned. This seemed a reasonable choice, though obviously not as good as those that had gone before.

Immediately, the emphasis moved to Chris who was the next in line. After some preamble, he announced his choice:


I remained unconvinced by the Baltic states and so was a little worried that things were going downhill.

At this point, having finished an amazing fish soup, I took the opportunity to take a quick bathroom break. I located the gents in a cupboard under the stairs. As I returned to the table, the waiter informed me that there were no pizzas left. Suspecting that another riotous jape was afoot, I came back with, "I'll have the hot dogs". The waiter said that this was fine, and disappeared. Moments later, he returned with a pizza. He also presented a pizza to Dave saying,"Fried chicken for you, sir." The humour was just too much. However, the pizzas were superb.

Unfortunately, we now came to Rupert. Once again, it seemed as though we were going to have to beat a destination out of him, before he finally went for:


I was disappointed, though not surprised. Another poor selection from Rupert.

Surely things could only get better and up stepped Michael to make sure they did. After some deliberation and pointing out that his top two choices had now gone, he selected:


I was not surprised by this and it was a solid option. Thankfully, Michael had halted the slide, but with Dave up next, would it last? Dave's introduction was not promising as he explained that he had selected a typical summer beach resort. He then opted for:


The jury was out on this one. It could have been a lot worse, but possibly a lot better as well.

Thoughts finally turned to the Little Lucky Leprechaun. We discussed the options, but there was one very obvious choice and we duly selected:


The list of destinations was complete and at least most of them were acceptable, though there were some obvious favourites among them.

Once the plates had been cleared and the desserts ordered, it was time for Kurt's Veto. Steve pointed out that he rather liked the idea of going to Eastern Europe, and then wrote down his vote. Once we had all voted and handed in the slips, Chris, as Kurt, revealed the voting. In traditional style, he began by saying, "I'll count the votes" and then listing the votes in order. "Berlin", "None", "None", "Llubljana", "Copenhagen", "None". It seemed that Michael had voted for Berlin, which I found difficult to understand, particularly when something as demented as Llubljana was in the draw, which of course received my vote. Steve, in moronic fashion, had voted for his own destination, Copenhagen.

Before the desserts arrived, we raced through Shaft and Grosser Vass' rounds, with nothing changing in either of them. Finally, my tartuffo arrived and did not disappoint. It was a fine ending to the meal. Having finished our desserts and placed an order for coffee, we began the rehearsal draw.

The destinations were placed in a glass, which was then passed to Rupert. He eliminated Helsinki. I immediately did a Barthez, greatful that it was only the rehearsal. Next it was up to the Little Lucky Leprechaun and Steve, on his behalf, eliminated Llubljana. Dave removed Copenhagen, Michael drew Tallinn, Rupert picked Reykjavik, and Chris chose Holland. The glass was passed back to Dave who, for Amal, eliminated Geneva. It was my turn next and I picked Berlin, leaving Steve to reveal the winner, Gdansk, and Dave to celebrate with a Shearer.

Reminding everyone that it was "just a bit of fun", we prepared the glass for the main draw as the coffees arrived. Over coffee, the serious business of the evening began. I was hoping for a better outcome than we had managed in the rehearsal.

Rupert again drew first on behalf of Reardon and selected:


Reardon had just self eliminated and commiserated with a Barthez.

The glass was passed to Steve on behalf of the Little Lucky Leprechaun, and he eliminated:


My worst ever finish in a draw, and to make matters worse, my two favourite destinations had gone immediately. A lot now depended on Geneva.

Next the glass moved to Dave, who removed:


I was relieved. At least the worst option had gone.

Michael was next and he drew out:


Dave and Steve were not happy, but I was beginning to think that things were looking up.

Rupert was handed the glass and he revealed:


The bastard had just removed the best of the remaining options. I was getting worried again.

Chris now received the glass and pulled out:


Michael seemed pleased with this, but I was not convinced that it was a bad option.

On behalf of Amal, Dave eliminated the next destination:


It was down to a straight choice between Tallinn, that I was not happy about, and Holland, that I didn't mind. Worse, it was all up to me. The tension was unbearable, but I selected a piece of paper and handed the glass to Steve so that he could take the one remaining piece. I then slowly unfolded the paper and revealed the runner up:


Steve confirmed that the winner was:


I was ecstatic, as was the Little Lucky Leprechaun, who celebrated with a Shearer. Steve was also quite pleased as he had said earlier in the evening that he would rather like to see the leprechaun doing a Shearer. We announced the result, saying, "Well, it's Holland next time".

Some were disappointed with the outcome of the draw, but I was pleased having never been to Holland before. We paid our bill and said farewell to the comedy waiter before wandering back through the freezing streets to the hotel. We decided to round off the evening with a drink in the bar on the 21st floor. I was hoping for some more of the amazing orange juice that I had sampled earlier in the break, but it turned out to be some rather bland bog standard orange. Disappointed, I finished my drink and then wandered back to my room to try to get some sleep before the long final day.

Sunday, 5th December

When I woke up on the final morning of the break, all I wanted to do was pack up and go home. Unfortunately, our flight was not until the evening and so we would have to occupy ourselves for the morning in Oslo. These final mornings were simply a question of wasting time until it was time to leave, since nobody felt like doing very much. This one was no different.

Steve and I got ready for breakfast and went down to join the others. The comic banter of the previous days was absent as we were all tired and ready to get home. We decided that after breakfast we would check out, leave our bags at the hotel and go for a walk.

We made first for the Royal Palace and wandered around the outside. At the rear we walked through the palace gardens, though half of it was fenced off. Eventually, we exited via a gate at the rear and walked along a road back towards the city centre. The road led to the castle and we walked along beneath the walls through what seemed to be the dockyards. At the far end, we encountered a rather strange memorial to the Jews who had been killed by the Nazis. We paused for a while to take some pictures, before heading towards the castle gates.

At this point, we weren't really sure what to do next. There was still rather a lot of time to kill, but we were all getting cold and our feet were wet, so we decided to check out the museum in the castle grounds and maybe get a coffee. When we reached the museum entrance, the Little Lucky Leprechaun decided to get his picture taken with a tank that was parked in the yard. Michael and Dave discovered the Castle Arrghh across the bay, but decided that it was probably a prison and not the final resting place of the Holy Grail.

Inside the museum, we located the cafe, conveniently placed near the entrance and decided to get some coffee. Michael and I had got a selection of cakes to share and a hot drink for everyone, and Michael began to sort out his money. Michael handed part of the money over and was sorting out the rest when Rupert rudely elbowed his way through and handed over a note to cover the rest of the bill. I couldn't believe it.

Once we had settled down at the table, an argument ensued. Chris typically intervened on Rupert's behalf and jumped to totally the wrong conclusions, making matters worse. Rupert was, once again, entirely unrepentant and could not accept the rudeness of his behaviour. With Chris in support, he was never likely to accept any fault either. Dave seemed to recognise that there was little point in arguing and got up to leave. Michael and I went to the pots and, once we had returned, decided to look around the museum, which was free to enter. It was reasonably interesting, dealing with Norwegian military history over the preceding few centuries and nicely filled in the time remaining.

Having whizzed through the world war two section at the end, we left the museum and hurried back to the hotel. We collected the bags and set off for the station, with the exception of Dave, who needed to visit the bathroom. We wondered whether he would make it in time for the train, but he soon joined us on the platform. Shortly, the train arrived and we travelled the few stops to the main station, hurried back through the shopping arcade and got onto the bus, ready for the long ride to the airport.

When we finally arrived at the airport, we rushed inside, hoping to beat the crowds to the check-in desk. It was extremely busy, but we managed to join towards the front of the queue. There was a bit of a wait, but we were finally checked in and ready to sit down and chill with a drink.

Since none of us had much in the way of cash, we pooled our resources and headed for the cafeteria. While Michael, Rupert and I sorted out the drinks, the others went to get some hot dogs from a stand that we had noticed. We bought the drinks and carried them over to a table where the others soon joined us, carrying hot dogs. Unfortunately, it seemed that they had screwed up and failed to get Michael a hot dog. Chris went back to rectify the problem but returned empty handed having bizarrely decided that, since there weren't any hot dogs with bacon left, he wouldn't bother. Michael seemed to get annoyed and decided to go without.

Heading through to the departure area, Chris was apprehended for having a screwdriver in his hand luggage. He was given the option of surrendering the item or trying to check in his hand baggage as an extra case. He chose the latter option and disappeared while we moved off to take a look at the shops.

When we were ready to make our way to the gate, we discovered that we had to go through another security check. This seemed a bit strange, but we were soon through and we found a seat in the gate area and waited for the flight to board.

A couple of hours later, we were on the ground at Stansted. We hurried through passport control and into baggage reclaim. Fortunately, there was not long to wait for our bags to arrive and we proceeded through customs and out into the arrival area. It wasn't clear how long we'd have to wait for a bus to the car park, so I decided to take the opportunity to visit the pots. As I was returning, I realised that Steve's bus to the long stay car park had arrived and that he was on his way. I hurried out of the terminal, hoping to be able to say goodbye to him, but couldn't fight my way through the crowds. Disappointed, I returned to the others.

Rupert decided to make for the railway station to catch a train, and Dave wanted to find his coach to London, so we bade farewell to them. Michael, Chris and I then boarded the bus to the mid stay car park, located the car and loaded our bags. We set off for the long drive back to my house. As we approached Reading, we diverted into the town to drop Chris at the railway station for his train home. With just Michael and I remaining, the break was almost over and we were a little deflated as we completed the drive to my house. Once we had unloaded our cases, we had a quick drink before heading off to sleep.

Monday, 6th December

I woke up early that morning, to find Michael already up and waiting for the water to heat up for his shower. While we watched some comedy videos on the television, I made some coffee. When we had both been through the shower, we shared out the last of the Norwegian chocolate to have with our coffee.

Soon it was time for Michael to head for home. I helped him load the car and then waved him off. For me, the Oslo Experience was finally over. There was no time to dwell on these thoughts, however, since I had to get ready to go to work. As I got behind the wheel and began the short drive, I had one thought on my mind:

It's Holland next time!