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During my travels newspaper columns were published weekly in the Dutch daily newspaper
Dutch newspaper Spits

This project has been supported by these great and warmhearted companies:
Netherlands: Paping Buitensport, ODLO, IPtower.nl, AVRO Dutch Broadcasting Org., Travelcare, TunaFish, Book A Tour, StadsRadio Rotterdam; UK: Lazystudent, KissFM, The Sunday Times, The Guardian; Isle of Man: SteamPacket/SeaCat; Ireland: BikeTheBurren; Belgium: Le Temps Perdu, Majer & PartnersAustria: OhmTV.com; Norway: Scanrail Pass, Hurtigruten, Best Western HotelsSouth Africa: eTravel, British Airways Comair, CapeTalk, BazBus Spain: Inter Rail, Train company Renfe; Australia: Channel 9 Television, Bridgeclimb, Harbourjet, SeaFM Central Coast, Moonshadow Cruises, Australian Zoo, Fraser Island Excursions, Hamilton Island Resort, FantaSea Cruises, Greyhound/McCafferty's Express Coaches, Aussie Overlanders, TravelAbout.com.au, Travelworld, Unlimited Internet, Kangaroo Island SeaLink, Acacia Apartments; Malaysia: Aircoast; Canada: VIA rail, Cedar Springs Lodge, BCTV/GlobalTV, St. George Hotel, VICKI GABEREAU talkshow, Ziptrek Ecotours, Whitler Blackcomb Ski Resort, Summit Ski & Snowboard Rental, High Mountain BrewHouse, Cougar Mountain Snowmobiling, Whistler Question Newspaper, Snowshoe Inn, First Air, Nunanet.com, Canadian North Accommodations by the Sea, DRL Coachlines Newfoundland, The National Post and Air North.


Reports

Tuesday, 4 September 2001
-- Bergen (N) 2nd day


A wake up call from the reception downstairs at Jacob's Apartment woke me up at 9.15am. It was Erik and he kindly wanted me downstairs in fifteen minutes.

So I had a fast shower and found a little bag with box of yoghurt, slices of cheese, jam and two bums of bread. I decided to take it all with me in my little bag and got downstairs.

Erik brought me to the square place next to the daily fish market where I met Siri Giil, who is the information marketing co-ordinator of the Visit Bergen Tourist Board.

Erik handed me over to Siri and I would meet him later today again.

Siri explained me what was going to happen with me. She welcomed me in Bergen and gave me a card that told me that I am the Guest of Honour. "Yes, because with your project you will be a little bit of an Ambassador of Bergen for the day you will be here and tell the world about this beautiful city."

I was overwhelmed! She treated me on a cup of coffee and told me I was going to get on a bus that would tour around Bergen for the coming three hours. And the card would let me in for free and also to some other places in town.

I got in the bus and the guiding lady asked me for a ticket and I showed her the card. She seemed to never ever had seen such a card. It had my name on it and represented "www.letmestayforaday.com".

"Whom do you represent?" she asked. I looked at my card and showed it to her again, and then saw all the American tourist in the bus.

Probably the lady was not familiar with the Internet, so to protect myself by telling about my whole project in front of the bus, I decided to tell her a little lie. Just to see if she would catch it... For fun.

"I represent the Royal Family of Holland," I said.
"You are from the Dutch Royal Family?" she asked me.
In the bus faces started whispering to each other.
"You are a prince or something?" some heavily accented American asked me.
"No, I am just writing about them."

Oh.
Okay, welcome Your Highness' Ramon. And then she let me pick out a seat in the bus.

What I noticed before I even got to Bergen: This city loves visitors. And in all the tourism media the city is called the Gateway to the fjords.

Big ocean steamer pass by in Bergen and let their guests out in the town for a few days. Bergen is a town to potter around in. There is so much history in its old houses and narrow streets, and monuments can almost be seen on any corner.

Together with the Guest of Honour card, I also got the Bergen Guest Card, which entitled me to use free bus travel in the city and the chance to go up one of the many cable cars that go on some of the six surrounding mountains.

The bus tour drove around the typical this-is-what-a-tourist-must-see places and the lady guide tried to make her stories as much fun as possible.

"We have three fire departments in Bergen, so if there is a fire in some wooden house, the fire department will arrive very fast. Unless the fire department is on fire of course."
The Americans didn't get it, so didn't I...

Within 3 hours I saw Håkons Hall (the largest and most imposing building of the royal residency in the 13th century), passed the Museum of Decorative Art and had its first stop at the Gamle Bergen Museum, up north the city.

This open-air museum is reconstructed as a small town of more than 40 old Bergen houses from the 19th and the 20th century.

The Americans had their eyes almost popping out when they saw the beauty of the wooden houses. Even when they saw the inside, they had never seen something like this. But for me everything looked like how I experienced life when I was young, in Holland. Most grandparents' places in Holland will still look like that.

From here the bus drove back again, towards the south of Bergen and onto Fløyen, one of the city mountains where the bus stopped to let all the camera-tourists out so photograph the nice view on the city.

Even further south we ended up in Troldhaugen, which was the house of the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The house is now a museum filled with memento's of the composer’s life and its interior as it was from those times. A nearby museum modern building showed me detailed information about the life of Grieg and why he means so much to the Norwegian people.

Through the art of Edward Grieg, music enthusiasts all over the world for the first time became aware of the Norwegian culture. To Norwegians, his music has become part of their national identity. Despite his strong national unconsciousness, Grieg was also a typical cosmopolitan. So he could combine Norwegian tradition with new European cultural currents.

Edvard Grieg had the unique ability to compose music that won people’s hearts not only in Norway, but all over the world. This made him one of hit time’s great international stars.

With his basis in Norwegian folk music, Grieg and his music gained ground in concert halls as well in homes where music was appreciated throughout the world. He was after all not only a great composer, but also an outstanding concert pianist and conductor. In springtime and autumn he travelled Europe with his successful concerts, Grieg was loaded down with work and commissions until the very day of his death in 1907.

Here you can listen to something Edvard Grieg had written, online. I know you'll say "Oh, that music," and from now on you'll now that that's is the Norwegian pride.

And after a stop in the museum (great waffles in the cafeteria!) the tour had ended when it dropped me off in the centre again.

That's where I met Siri again and she wanted to know how I thought about all of Bergen. I just had to mention the guiding lady and the typical American tourists on the bus. Europeans recognise elderly Americans because their hair is dyed grey (so it kind of looks like blue in the sun), the male mostly wears a very curved cap and they mostly walk on white sneaker shoes.

She treated me on a lunch (chicken salad) at Singer, where we sat outside on the sunny terrace with a view on the busy fish market.

Siri is mostly a hostess for journalists and foreign tourist agencies and spends a lot of time on the streets of Bergen to help, guide or support tourists.

We had fun while we talked about how foreigners ask questions to Norwegians about the culture here.

American tourists seem to ask the most world-estranged questions around here.

For example:

"Don't you have to protect yourself against the polar bears and the penguins?"

or "Is it true that the people that live on one of the multi-thousand Norwegian island walk around naked?".

It's very funny to try to understand how other people experience a time in another place. (What am I doing now?)

(How much do Americans know about the world? No offence, this is a serious question, folks)

After the lunch I thanked Siri for the tour and the lunch and headed back to my apartment. I hope to see Siri later again, somewhere this week, she is a nice lady!

This is where I had a little nap (I had this live chat last night and together with writing report I was pretty exhausted) and met Erik Berstad again when I got downstairs after I packed my bag again at 4pm.

Before I left it was time for the Letmestayforaday-gift, which this time was an original Coca Cola-bottle from the coke's 100 years anniversary from my previous hosts Geert Jan & Gry Nilsen in Stavanger.

When he was young Geert Jan had a very big collection of Coca Cola bottles from all over the world. He asked them by writing to newspapers in those countries and asked for a Coca Cola bottle in return for something in return. One time, when he had to move out, a big box with his antique collection got lost when the movers couldn’t hold the box and dropped it on the street. The exclusive bottle is one of the lost survivors of his collection.

I thanked Erik for letting me stay in one of his apartments and for putting me in contact with the Bergen Tourist Board. After a look on the map I’d took the walk through the city to my next address.

I arrived there a little bit after 5pm and when I rang the bell on the ground floor of the apartment complex the door was opened from below. In the hallway a guy called Geir welcomed me and took me along. “And you are…?” I asked.

“I am the assistant,” he said.

I wondered where I’d arrive today if my host has his own assistant. I wish I had an assistant that opened doors!

And suddenly I arrived in an apartment on the second floor where two guys in wheelchairs welcomed me. They were John Alrid Lygren and Nikolai Riis-Johannessen.

It was John Alrid who had invited me after reading about me on Startsiden.no, an Norwegian website. It was a long time agon that they put up a link to my website, but at that John Alrid invited me just to meet me in real life.

So here I was, kind of reserved as I have never been invited by disabled people before.

Nikolai lives in the apartment next floor and John Alrid and he both have their own assistent. The assistents do shifts of half days and take care of the most necessary work that has to be done in a house.

Nikolai told me that they both have spinal muscular atrophy, which is a very serious muscle disease. They had been ‘normal’ when they were young, but slowly a wheel chair became necessary and that is how they move around all day now.

To break my ice I handed them the Letmestayforaday-gift from my previous host Erik Berstad. Erik gave away a basket with a bottle of Australian wine (Jacob’s Creek) together with two glasses and a candle in the form of a bird egg. John Alrid said that was a good present, as they love a drink once in a while.

We moved from John Alrid’s apartment to Nikolai’s apartment and I discovered that everything was on remote control. The doors, windows, curtains, television, lights, even the dvd-player; everything worked on a little box they both have with them.

In Nikolai's apartment his assistant Rune Svendsen started preparing dinner. John Alrid, Nikolai and me talked about travelling, Internet and disabilities.

John Alrids computer has a big roller ball as a mouse and he clicks on the characters on a keyboard-programme on his screen. And he can do that pretty fast as I even chatted with him in the chatroom yesterday night.

Everything that John Alrid does takes him a lot of energy, so once in a while he had to ‘recharge’ himself with an oxygen-machine, assisted by his helper Thomas Sæle.

When we got to know each other a bit better I would like to know how this happened, this disability. I am just very unknown in the world of disabled people and I think I should not.

The disease makes their muscles very weak and very important nerves stop working. If they’d move a lot, the muscles have to repair themselves again, taking a lot of life energy. But if they don’t move, the muscles die off, making any movement impossible.

It’s a vicious circle that they have to stabilise as long as possible.

Their disease attacked hard when they wore young, together with the grow-spurt of puberty. Now they are in the twenty and the disease is more to the background, but still could take them down.

They are now very sensible for cold or pneumonia, because healing that and staying alive this way takes even more energy and sometimes it won’t work anymore.

However it is a very harsh question, I had to ask them.

“You have this disease now, what is your life expectancy with it then?”

“Funny that you ask that question,” Nikolai told me. “Because we were talking about that last night.”
John Alrid: “I think I’ll have another five, six years.”

However it’s a very serious issue for people who are unknown to a situation like this, it wasn’t that serious in the house. “And with my current situation I hope to become 70-years-old,” Nikolai laughed.

I could see that John Alrid was more disabled than Nikolai. “But anything can happen with us, we just don’t know what or when this will happen.”

Rune served dinner, which was a Chinese noodles meal with chicken and a lot of vegetables. Vitamins, mum!

Thomas had done the groceries and Rune cooked everything.

“Rune is the best cook in the house. The others are not that good,” he laughed.

Thomas admitted that. “I prefer the easy things, like pizza.”

We eventually talked a lot that night and a lady friend of them also came to visit. All five of us where listening to her stories of when she travelled the world.

“Have you been to India yet?” she asked me.
“No, but I’ll go there.”
“Oh, be very careful.” And she told me a story that wouldn’t make a world traveller very happy if it happens like that. “But maybe you are lucky, because you stay with people that invite you. That way you are more protected, you won’t have to search for a hostel and trust people on the streets that seem to help you. You just have to trust your hosts.”

And that was true.

And we talked about the Fiji Islands east of Australia. I don’t think if I’d ever get there, I said. “Yes, you’d need a sponsor for it,” somebody said.
“No, if you’d fly from Australia to the US or South America, all plans land on Fiji, because otherwise the distance is too long to fly,” the lady told me. “You’ll eventually get there, you just have to make sure you can stay there for a while. It’s beautiful out there.”

When it got around midnight, John Alrid and Nikolai prepared to go to bed their helpers helped them with that.

I would stay in a room in Nikolai's apartment tonight and Thomas would stay in John Alrid's apartment as he would be Nikolai's assistent tomorrow morning, and therefore going home wasn't really necessary for him.

I could use John Alrids computer for a little while and checked my emails. I do get a lot of emails lately.

And someway somebody published about me in a big Chinese newspaper, so I get overloaded with emails from Asian people.

I am very thankful, but most of their writing I just can't understand. And I get a lot of invitations by email, while it doesn't work like that.

People write me their address and tell me they won't be home tomorrow in some city in China.

"But if you want I can come over on Saturday, my friend. Welcome in China".

Someway the newspaper wasn't really clear about how my project works and where I am right now. I just have to delete the 10 emails per hour coming in asking, "When will you be in China?" as that question is answered on my Frequently Asked Question-page with: If I am somewhere in Europe today, don't expect me in another part of the world tomorrow. Just follow my tracks online."

And a lot of emailing persons want to be my dearest friend.
"Please share your travelling with me, you can send you pictures to my email. You can also call me on this number."

Someway it is funny, but with over 500 emails (!!!), I just can't keep sending a mail back that everything is on my website.

I am in Norway right now, I can't spend that much time on the computer every day.

But then I get angry emails from Asia, people who asked where I was as they were waiting for me in some Chinese city. The whole family was there and they had invited me and I did not show up! How bad I am... I am a terrible, unthankful person for some Asian people right now... it is all in my mailbox.

Sorry for you all, but it doesn't work that way.

I travel around on invitations through my website (not by email) and when I am in your neighbourhood, just cross your fingers because I might give you a call if I want to come and visit you. You'll only know when, if I am around in your part of the world.

On this second day in Bergen I can already tell the rest of the world that I won't be visiting Sweden. I won't visit Finland and therefore I won't make it to St. Petersburg and Moscow this way.

It's just impossible to travel through Sweden and Finland with only 4 invitations in both countries. I'll just have to travel and enjoy the hospitality of Norway as the Swedish and Finnish media is not even interested in helping me out in promoting my project.

Finlands biggest export product is Nokia, but someway the Finnish aren't that good in connecting people.

But every Swedish or Finnish person is welcome to invite me over and prove that I might be wrong.

Good night Bergen!

Ramon.



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