Our last post was from Vercelli, a lunch stop between Chiavenna and Bergamo. Our plan was to spend two nights in Fuipiano Valle Imagna, another idyllic little town at the end of a road out of Bergamo up into a valley in the Alps.

The traffic getting there was ridiculous. First there was a succession of traffic jams on the freeway outside Milan (it was rush hour). Finally we reached our exit, and the zip up a lonely mountain road was not to be had; there was first a one-lane bridge with traffic control which took about 15 minutes, and then we followed a slow truck up past a succession of small towns. Only the last ten km were unimpeded, steep, and twisty. They would have been beautiful except that it was foggy and raining a little. So we arrived at the Albergo Moderno in a bad mood, and quite pessimistic about getting to a 9:30 am flight a day later. The host was very friendly, spoke great English, fed us delicious inexpensive dessert, pointed out the local badger scrounging for garbage, and let us use his dial-up WiFi connection. Unfortunately, what we used it for was to find a different, twice as expensive, badgerless, characterless Bergamo airport hotel for the following night so that we wouldn’t have to worry about traffic making us miss our plane (or making us get up at 4 am).

The next morning continued being cold, gray and foggy and almost rainy, so we abandoned any ideas of walking around in the hills. (We’d been very lucky with sunny days up until this point.) Instead, we headed back to Bergamo, found our dreary hotel, drove into town, and spent the afternoon walking around the walled Bergamo Alta, mostly killing time. We found a delicious wine bar for dinner, and went back to sleep.

The next morning the challenge was to pack our bags so that the checked bags had no more than 15 kg (actually, up to about 17 kg turns out to be acceptable). To do this, we put books in two carry-on items (they’re allowed to weigh 10 kg), and we had to move shoes from one suitcase to another to even them out. If we’d gone over the limit, it would have been 8 euro per kg. It’s one of RyanAir’s ways of making money. Still, it was a pretty cheap flight overall — 75 euro for both of us one way from Bergamo (they call it Milano Bergamo even though it’s 40 km from Milano) to Oslo Torp (which is 123 km from Oslo, a two-hour, $20 bus ride following a two-hour flight). The amusing RyanAir breakdown was 20 euro for the fare, 12 euro total for the two checked bags, and 43 euro for “fees and taxes”. They saved a few pennies by buying seats which don’t recline or have pockets.

Anyway, we’re in Oslo now, which represents a halfway point between the “bonus vacation” generated by the wedding invitation, and the originally intended vacation to Spain, Portugal, and France. Since RyanAir made going to Oslo very cheap, Ray hadn’t ever been here, and they had an exhibit at a museum on homosexuality in the animal kingdom (it is apparently widespread, but it’s hard to show in a museum, and it filled up only one medium-sized room), we came up here. Also, we knew some people who live here, who have been very wonderful in letting us stay at their place and use their neighbor’s WiFi, and to take time off work, organize stuff to do, and show us around. Today we saw the gay animals exhibit, the Munch museum (which featured two galleries of Egon Schiele, who we’d just been introduced to in Vienna), the Nobel Peace Center, and the Viking Ships museum (with three huge Viking ships which had been unearthed from burial mounds).

Tonight we went to Bagatelle, which is a very nice restaurant. It was similar to The French Laundry in that it took four hours of continuous nibbling at delicious tidbits, accompanied by the appropriate wine, and cost over $200 each just for the food. Everything was good — nothing was annoying or cooked wrong. The waiters were very attentive, and knowledgeable: on the few occasions they didn’t know what something was, they went and asked the chef. One nice thing about ordering wine in Norway is since they don’t make their own, they’re free to choose wines from all over Europe, so we had French whites, sweet German wine, and a delicious Italian red. (Forget California.) There were many nice pieces of art (they had a guide to the art); we were sitting in front of a panoramic photo of revelers at May Day 2000 in Berlin, blown up so you could see the grains of the film. The print was 5 feet by 30 feet or so.

Oslo is a very expensive place for food and especially alcohol. Entrees that might be $25 in the US are easily $40 here. Wine that might be $40 is probably $90 here. Tomorrow we’ll eat at our friends’ house, which will be more social as well as less expensive.

Saturday night we’ll begin the second part of the vacation with a flight to Marseille (preceded by a two-hour bus trip).