Oslo, Norway

In the ditch (or, how we suffered in Scandinavia)

Date February 2011
Posted February 2012
Enduring cold and sleep deprivation in the midst of a Norwegian winter
"Really fucking cold", the scruffily painted wall read. Back then in Detroit I had to agree: sometimes in life, it's really fucking cold. And this weekend, being winter, in Scandinavia, what else could we expect?

The landing lights of the aircraft illuminated a typically Nordic winter scene. There was snow, lots of it. After setting down upon the gritted tarmac the plane taxied towards the terminal building, rolling as it did past an impressive fleet of snow-clearing vehicles. For the Norwegians in February this was just a daily operation. With the steps in place the door opened and a rush of cold air swept in. It was at about this moment that I wondered why I hadn't packed a scarf, hat and gloves. The temperature was minus double figures already, and tonight it was only going to get colder.

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

At Oslo Central Station I met metro protagonists Marshall and dsankt who'd flown in from equally more inviting European countries. Together we sought out that reckless feeling of endangerment and excitement which all explorers of rapid transit systems chase. But by arriving in Norway at this time of the year we had ensured that the spirit of adventure would start from the moment our shoes touched down on the crunchy snow. The air was sharp, cutting into us with little sign of respite as we walked northward towards a tunnel portal where we might gain access to the disused Volvat metro station. After some time we found the railway line in question, but not before nearly getting killed by a hooker after ds shouted something at her. I forget what it was, but seem to remember if was pretty funny. To us, anyway...

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Since service had finished we didn't really expect, as we dropped down onto the track and passed into the tunnel, that bright lights and loud noise might enter the tunnel from the opposite end, but that's what they did. Tumbling over ourselves, the ballast and the remains of the busted platforms we ran for cover, ending up dispersed between several alcoves just in time before a snow-plough train swept round the bend and passed us by. Ah yes, that snow... it shouldn't have been surprising that maintenance trains would operate after hours in such conditions. Still, we were to be surprised again, at least three times.

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Volvat dispensed with (save for a little paint on the walls it was faily indistinguishable from an empty concrete tunnel) the three of us moved on to find the also-abandoned-but-in-better-condition Valkyrie Plass station. After waiting for a small group of workers on the track to disband we quietly snuck into the tunnel, immediately noticing the temperature difference. Yes, this would almost definitely be our home for the night. Pushing further along the line we arrived minutes later at the twin platforms of the station. This one is impressive amongst other abandoned ones for its intactness and, notably (but perhaps trivially) its remaining station signs. Conveniently Valkyrie Plass was equipped with an overpass which would make for a nicely concealed bivvy point.

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

And then came the track workers again, forcing us to scurry up onto that overpass for cover, remaining concealed as they stood around talking about something. Would they come upstairs? It didn't matter too much as the station is equipped with an emergency exit which is conveniently located on the overpass. We eyed the door and kept quiet. Several minutes later and the workers continued off up the tunnel and back to the depot outside, unaware of our presence above them.

Work was finishing now because the train service would begin within half an hour. And so began our punishment for ever entertaining such a retarded idea as sleeping rough in Norway, in winter: sleep deprivation. For the station of Valkyrie Plass sits on a main line along which about three different subway services travel. Imagine trying to sleep with a fast train banging past merely 2 meters beneath you. Every. Thirty. Goddamn. Seconds.

In McDonalds, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

In semi-dreamlike states we at least tried to gain some rest. And besides there was little else to do outside, because even during the day it'd still be rather a little fresh out there. Eventually it all became too much and concensus was that we just had to escape this prison. We bagged our kit, busted through the door and stumbled over junk in the restaurant store-cupboard that it emerges in before finally stepping out into the daylight. And the cold.

With little else to do we went to check out a possible lead for later, winding up sitting in a platform shelter while a teenage girl in a full one-piece Pikachu suit minced around outside. Still, it turned out that a fair number of other people in the city were at a similar loss as to what should be done with this day. They sat around us a little later in the McDonald's, bored but warm. Our horrendously expensive and ridiculously weak beers were poured out into empty coffee and milkshake cups, we became mildly drunk, destroyed abandoned Happy Meal toys and formulated our plan for the night's entertainment: we would ride the last train out to a 'point of interest' on the subway system and then get back to the after-hours tunnel exploration.

The T-Bane, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

I can't remember why we left McDonald's but the final 2-3 hours of subway service we spent riding laps of the circular line, forced to get up and swap trains once per lap. God knows how many times we went round but I think it was around 3am that we watched a different train trundle off further into the suburbs, sitting on the platform of some station or another waiting for the tunnel lights to go on. This would mean that service had ended. A few 'ghost trains' (empties, en route to the depot) rattled through, and then we heard it again: diesel power.

As if conjured out of a thin air a little yellow locomotive with two workers aboard chugged it's way into view from the opposite direction, glided through the station and parked up in the tunnel. Our tunnel. Game over, kids. Dejected we left the station and nearly froze to death. Later we found out that the night low was around -26 Celsius. All you had to do was stop moving and you felt like you might just insta-die right there. With several miles back to the city centre (and then what?!) there was no point hanging around.

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

A while later and three sorry-looking forms trudged into a local kebab joint. We had vowed to consume only food brought with us in view of the silly cost of pretty much anything in Norway. It wasn't that we couldn't afford it but just that it felt wrong to pay such steep prices. The beer had been bad enough at 4 Euro's a tin. Now though, tired and cold, we caved-in, bought the usual nameless meat wrapped in flatbread and slobbered over that shit like a bunch of filthy hobos. Lacking other accomodation options and not wanting front 40 Euros apiece for a room, we orientated ourselves in the direction of Valkyrie Plass and began to walk.

This time it wasn't until we'd begun to arrange ourselves for the night that a diesel work train thundered into the station, bringing with it another track maintenance crew. Noisily they began doing something on the platform, loading or unloading equipment. Meanwhile up on the overpass the three of us hurriedly re-packed our stuff and poised by the exit, ready to bolt should the work crew decide for some reason to come up the stairs. Ten minutes later and they departed, and once more we relaxed as best we could, for all of about five minutes... and then the trains began to pass through again.

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

The weekend was rounded off the next day with more sitting in McDonald's, and then trying to sleep at the local railway station. The cops were obviously used to this behaviour and were having none of it, kicking us awake the moment our heads touched the smooth cold floor. We tried to be crafty, setting up a little camp in a tucked-away corner of the station where we thought they'd never find us. But CCTV gave us away, and then they came for us again...

By the time our respective flights home drew near, we were all half-destroyed, stumbling zombie-like wrecks numbed from the cold, the boredom and the lack of sleep. How would anyone survive like this for years on end like the homeless do? But therein laid the experience because in retrospect it was one of the most interesting and rewarding trips of the year. I'm not entirely sure why because it entailed almost endless-suffering and virtually no exploration of new ground. But there's something about plain old survival that can be immensely satisfying. Still, after all this an economy plane seat never felt so comfortable...

Valkyrie Plass station, Oslo, Norway (2011) courtesy of adventuretwo.net
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Valkyrie Plass Wikipedia

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