5 countries

On Friday, July 26, Mark and I are going on holiday to see five countries: Iceland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway. We each have been to only one of these five nations: Mark has been to the Netherlands before, while I have visited Norway on a number of occasions during my trips to the Arctic. Oddly, I have never been to Norway south of the 70th parallel. Thus I have never been to the capital of Oslo nor seen any large Norwegian cities. I have only been to the small towns of Polmak, Tana Bru, Vadsø and Vardø. The primary reason for this trip is the OutGames, an international competition like the Gay Games which Mark participated in three years ago when we travelled to Cologne, Germany. Unlike the time in Cologne, when Mark lugged all his equipment overseas to play hockey, for these games Mark is competing in two different sports that are a lot easier on the back and in airplane luggage allowance. In Antwerp, Belgium, Mark will be playing table tennis as well as testing his speed in in-line skating races. I will be the supportive cheerer and Canadian flag-waver.

Before we arrive in Antwerp, however, we are visiting Reykjavík, Iceland on a deliberately lengthy layover en route to Amsterdam. We will have the entire morning and afternoon in the Icelandic capital, then fly to Amsterdam that evening. We’ll visit with some of Mark’s friends who live there, then catch a train to the capital of Luxembourg where we’ll stay for three days. I am looking forward to getting my hands on some Luxembourgish euros. I will have an opportunity to use some Lëtzebuergesch; I had bought a phrasebook for the Luxembourgish language many years ago when in Switzerland. Other Lëtzebuergesch language-learning books exist, and I had even seen them last year at Schoenhof’s Foreign Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

We will stay overnight in Brussels one night then will be in Antwerp for the OutGames from August 2 to 9. After the games have ended, Mark and I will go to the northern border area with the Netherlands called Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. For border freaks like me, the Baarle region is a must. Baarle resembles a piece of Swiss cheese where all the holes are one country while the cheese itself is another country. On prior European holidays, I visited Büsingen, a German village completely surrounded by Switzerland, and in another year Campione d’Italia, a sliver of Italy also completely surrounded by Switzerland. Campione d’Italia is the location where I came this close to killing myself on the steep cliff of the Swiss-Italian border. I can’t help but think that if I did plummet to my death, it would open up a political can of worms as each nation shrugged its shoulders and gave weak excuses of I’m-not-gonna-do-it, sparring over which country would be in charge of picking up my dead body should I actually die (in border-freak ecstasy, likely) actually straddling an international frontier. Check out the Wikipedia link and all the external links for the freakiest maps and zigzaggiest international borders of Baarle Hertog/Baarle-Nassau. I’m glad that Mark is interested in visiting the Baarle region with me. We made a day trip visiting Steinstücken, the former West Berlin exclave in 2010 (West Berlin itself being an exclave of the Federal Republic of Germany, so Steinstücken was an exclave of an exclave).

From Belgium we head to Oslo, then to Bergen where we will embark on a weeklong cruise among the fjords and islands all the way around the Varangerfjorden peninsula to Kirkenes. It will be the first cruise for the both of us (I am not counting overnight “cruises” from Finland to Sweden or Finland to Estonia). Our itinerary has stops in Vardø and Vadsø, two Arctic towns I visited in January 2002. Who would have ever thought that I would one day return to these same two towns, but this time in the middle of the summer (thereby giving me a chance of actually seeing something)? I have already excitedly shown Mark my photo album of Vardø and Vadsø, which, since the time of my 2002 visit was in the dead of winter, meant that my entire vacation in northern Norway was spent in utter darkness.

We return to Toronto once again after a stopover in Reykjavík. I hope to visit post offices in all five countries and take more postal photography. Maybe this time, yes maybe this time, I will see the northern lights. I have been to the far north of Finland and Norway many times, yet have never seen the aurorae. They must flick the lights off when they know I’m coming. I’m beginning to think that the aurora borealis is all a myth.

Follow my blog and follow us along as Mark competes in the OutGames, as I go book shopping, as we criss-cross the Belgian-Dutch border literally hundreds of times in Baarle, and as we cruise the fjords of northern Norway.

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