Coming of Age in Oslo
The saying goes “the best things in life are free”. To a degree, this is true: a beer always tastes that little bit better when it has been stealthily taken from under the nose of a bleary-eyed drunk in a grotty bar. Nobody disputes that when you’re down to a handful of pesos, a lunchtime sandwich made from the stale bread and questionable jam left in a hostel kitchen after breakfast tastes better than it should. However, from a hobo’s perspective, some countries present more of a challenge than others. Without question, Norway is the Everest of budget travel. Still, when you have the restless feet of a traveller, a feeling that foreign countries are somehow easier for underagers to acquire alcohol and an inexplicable desire to bankrupt yourself in order to see your nation’s football team get humiliated, you just have to go.
It was these circumstances that led a childhood friend and I to make the journey to the capital of Europe’s most expensive country. Not only did the trip prove very educational, but also it fuelled dreams of embarrassing myself around the world for years to come. Firstly, as any hobo worth their salt knows, it’s a rare thing for a direct flight to be the cheapest way to travel. Unfortunately, this trip was no exception. Rather than spend an extra £30 on a direct flight to Oslo, it seemed eminently sensible to hop on a Ryanair flight to Bremen and spend 14 hours in a nondescript industrial German city before catching another flight to Oslo. A note for any hobos that find themselves in Bremen (though I’m not sure why you would): if you get busted on the tram without a ticket, then you could do a lot worse than claiming you thought the tram was free and waving around a boarding pass for a flight that evening. Just hope the local polizei are in a good mood.
Norway is expensive. So expensive, in fact, that things such as hostels are a luxury that make a big dent in any traveller’s drinks budget. Our solution was simple: track down the shittest tent money could buy… in 1964; take the tent to a campsite on top of a large hill in an area that makes Baghdad look like Brighton, and there you go – home sweet home.
I learned two very valuable life lessons on that campsite. The first of these was from a Glaswegian man known only as “Chunk” who took it upon himself to mentor us vulnerable youngsters. He taught us that real men didn’t use sleeping mats, or indeed, sleeping bags when camping. No, they cost money that could be used for a football ticket and a bottle of vodka that could burn through steel. We discovered that real men slept on squares of carpet taken from a building site. How had we not realised this before?! The second lesson was that beautiful Danish girls do not find the site of a man in a kilt lying half-way out the tent face-down in his own vomit at 10 in the morning very attractive. Though I have a sneaking suspicion that this view might not just be restricted to the Danish…
I also learned in Oslo that wherever you go in the world, there will always be an Irish pub. What I didn’t count on, however, was that in the backstreets of Oslo, we would find a bar with an owner who was prepared to give us and the two Norwegians we had befriended fairly cheap drinks as long as we stayed downstairs and were prepared to listen to songs about the “Rifles of the IRA”. In fact, given the owner’s enthusiasm for telling tales of “the struggle”, we were just glad to wake up in the morning still in Oslo rather than smuggling weapons across the North Sea.
When first heading overseas without parental supervision, everyone learns at least something about drugs. What we found was that sometimes, clichés are true; in this case, bouncers outside dodgy nightclubs might not let you in without ID, but are often more than happy to sell you narcotics. We also learned that if you’re going to buy some questionable hashish, it is probably better to have more than one rolling paper to put it in.
After surviving the walk to the concrete jungle back to the campsite to collect our things (via an unexpected detour through a prostitute-filled train yard), we proceeded to watch the sunrise over the bay while “enjoying” the bouncer’s produce and contemplating how we would make it to the airport.
Having made it to the central train station in a very dysfunctional state, we hopped on the train and had a well-earned sleep. It was at this point that we learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: make sure you are going to the right airport. There can be few worse feelings than looking around and realising not only are you at the wrong airport, but that the airport you were supposed to be going to doesn’t have a train line within miles of it. It was only thanks to the kindness of the security guard, who didn’t have the heart to charge us for a return ticket when we explained our situation, that we made it back to Oslo. By this point, merely staying awake was a struggle, and we were woken at the bus terminal by the driver stamping his feet on the floor next to our heads shouting that the bus was about to leave.
As we boarded, I noticed a blur shoot past the corner of my eye. It was my friend fainting and, in the process, tackling a respectable Norwegian man to the ground. After profuse apologies, we took our seats on the bus, broke, drunk, high and unwashed, but with a strange sense of accomplishment. We had become hobos.