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Old 30th April 2021, 13:11   #1
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Default Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life

Introduction

Flying has become quite the norm over the last few years, but was a big deal two decades ago. This thread is an attempt to take all of us back in time and deliver a virtual experience of a magical trip that I experienced in 2003. Those were the days of film cameras, and taking pictures wasn't as easy as pulling a smartphone out and shooting, but we did manage many.

The first time I got onto a domestic flight was as a baby, and I don’t remember how that flight was. Next, I was on a short one hour flight on an Avro (HS 748) in 1981 operated by the then Indian Airlines; a surreal experience it was. There was a long gap, before circumstances forced me onto a B737-700 of Jet Airways from Chennai to Mumbai in Aug-2002. I never realized that just a few months thereafter, I’d be flying out of India, on some iconic aircraft, to a country not many people are fortunate to visit – the land of the midnight sun, aka Norway !!

How did the trip happen?

Flashback to April-2003 in Surat, Gujarat, India. I was by then a seasoned professional, with over 12 years of experience in operating a world scale plant. Our organization was keen to improve reliability of our plant, and fine tune operations practices, an there was this company in Norway, in the same business, that was setting their own standards for operations excellence. The company in Norway was kind enough to accept a team from our company to be part of a Technical Exchange meeting, where best practices of both plants could be shared for mutual benefit.

I had no inkling on what was going to unfold, and when my Business Head asked if I had a passport, I just said yes, but never bothered to think why he’d asked. Three days thence, I was told that I’d be part of a three member team cleared by our top management to visit this Norwegian company for the aforesaid meeting. It took a while for this to set in – am I one of the chosen three to represent the company at a technical exchange meeting overseas? Wow !!!

With not much time left, the challenge now was to prepare for the visa process, prepare for the meeting, and plan our logistics for the trip.

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-norway_midnightsun.png

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Old 30th April 2021, 13:20   #2
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Preparations for the trip

Day 00 - 02

Like most business trips, there was very little time between approval and departure, and so the three of us got our documentation ready viz. bank statements, invite letter from the Norwegian company, our company’s letter to the Norwegian Embassy in India etc. We then got onto a train to Mumbai on Day 02, headed straight to our ticketing office, got provisional air tickets issued, and then headed to the Norwegian Consulate. This was in South Mumbai but I don’t remember the exact location. What I do remember is that it was an extremely small set up in an old apartment. We were told that the passport would need to be stamped in Delhi, and that we would receive it in 5 days. A company representative in Mumbai was authorized to collect the stamped passports on our behalf.

Day 03-07

Meanwhie, as part of our trip preparations, we jointly created an elaborate questionnaire on the points to be discussed. We’d in the meanwhile got a confirmation that the passports had arrived at our office in Mumbai. We also locally got our foreign exchange in US dollars - part in American Express Travelers cheques, and part in cash. Our expenses would anyways have to be accounted for in our travel claim on return.

Amex Travelers Cheque - sample
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-amex_travellerscheque.jpg

Passport stamped with currency issued
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-passport_currencystamp.jpg

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Old 30th April 2021, 13:33   #3
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Drama on departure day - Saturday

The trip commenced at Surat amid some drama. We were booked on the August Kranti Rajdhani Express departing Surat at 06:15 am. On arriving at the station, our agent mentioned that our train tickets that were waitlisted 1, 2, 3 didn’t go through – understandably so since it was vacation time and a Saturday morning. Those were the non e-ticket days with no on line system to check status of PNRs. Fate of waitlisted tickets would be known only by looking at the charts at the station a few hours before travel. No amount of pleading with the Travelling Ticket Examiner got us in. The train left the platform and we were there, with all our baggage, not knowing what to do.

A holiday special train was scheduled to arrive from Ajmer in 30 minutes and this was headed to Mumbai Central. Our agent quickly got open tickets for us on that train, and as the train rolled in, he got into the AC 2-Tier coach, and got seats for us from the TTE. We boarded the train but hadn’t carried any food since we assumed that we’d be served breakfast on the August Kranti Rajdhani. Anyways, we had to be content with Vada Pau at Valsad. Meanwhile, the TTE approached us and asked, ”Apko receipt chahiye ki adjustment mein chalna hai ?” (Do you need a receipt or would you like to travel under adjustment?). Adjustment included a cashback offer , which we declined since we had to regularize our ticket claim after we returned. We obviously needed the receipt, and it was finally all done officially.

On arrival in Mumbai, at approx. 11:45 am, we took a black and yellow Premier Padmini taxi and proceeded to collect our passports (with the Schengen visa stamped) and our air tickets. Those days, we would be given tickets in the form of carbon copied coupons in a booklet. One coupon would be used for one sector (or one boarding pass). The booklet would typically hold enough coupons for 4 sectors.

Sample flight ticket coupons
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Sample flight ticket coupon - with endorsement tag for change of flight
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My Schengen visa
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-schengenvisa.jpg

Two of us had confirmed tickets (coupons read OK) while my other colleague’s return sector from Frankfurt to Mumbai was on waitlist.

Lunch followed and post that, we took some time off at our Guest House near Churchgate. Our flight was scheduled for late night/ early next morning from Mumbai’s Sahar Airport Terminal 2A. We decided to leave the Guest House for the airport at approx. 10pm. We hadn’t called for a hired taxi from the company as the car would have remained idle most of the day plus we only needed an airport drop. Those were the non-Ola and non-Uber days, and when we walked out onto the road with our baggage post dinner, lo and behold, we got an Ambassador black and yellow taxi. That was the first time I had seen an Ambassador black and yellow taxi in Mumbai. We got into the taxi, and although it was horribly hot and humid all through that day in May-2003, we enjoyed the airy ride to the Sahar Airport in the night.

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Old 30th April 2021, 13:50   #4
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At Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) (Sahar Airport) Terminal 2A

We arrived at our scheduled terminal 2A a clear 4 hours ahead of scheduled departure of our flight. For those of us that have used this airport in its earlier avatar, the ramp leading to departures would split into two – the right curve would lead to Terminal 2A while the left, to Terminal 2C. Terminal 2A would typically serve all airlines flying to Europe while 2C would serve Emirates, Thai, Singapore, Malaysian, Air India and the likes.

Image of the old CSIA Terminal 2A
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-csia_2a.jpg

I’d prepared myself with what to expect at the airport when inside. These might seem rather elementary today, but for a first time international passenger like me, I had to know what to do. There was this frame made for passengers to check if their hand baggage was within the stipulated dimensions.

Sample image of a hand luggage measurement frame
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Check in was smooth; the agent took two flight coupons and my luggage was checked in all the way through to Oslo via Frankfurt. I asked her for two aisle seats, while my other colleagues wanted window seats.

One colleague got a window seat, while my second colleague and I were offered a two seater in row 56 in the most iconic aircraft of all timea Boeing 747-400, operating under flight number LH757 from Mumbai to Frankfurt. While we got boarding passes for the Frankfurt – Oslo sector too, that was going to be a smaller jet.

We proceeded to immigration, then security, and were at our gate in good time. At approx. 01:15am, we saw this mighty bird arrive at our gate; what better start to my first international trip than to fly on a Boeing 747-400 !!

My first question to myself on seeing this aircraft was, ”Can this actually go up in the air?”. I knew nothing about the aircraft as those were only e-mail days with slow and expensive internet. Much later, I could appreciate the specs of this aircraft – maximum take off weight 397 MT, fuel capacity 217kL, range 13,500km, 57,000 pound-force of thrust on each engine, and many more mind boggling numbers.

Flight LH756 from Frankfurt arriving at the gate
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_1.jpg

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Old 30th April 2021, 14:31   #5
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On board LH757

We boarded as per specified zones and were in our seats comfortably. The 747-400 has a 3 – 4 – 3 seating layout in Economy Class, and this goes down to 2 – 4 – 2 towards the end of the aircraft. Aircraft those days had no individual screens for each seat in Economy Class. Instead, CRT monitors would hang from the ceiling every few rows. A pillow and a blanket would be provided at each seat. IIRC, our row #56 was the last and it was some kind of luxury to have two sitting in two seats rather than three in three.

Inside the Lufthansa Boeing 747-400
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-b747_inside1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-b747_inside2.jpg

The aircraft pushed back as scheduled, and we were taxiing to the runway for the 8hr 30min flight to Frankfurt. What I was to witness on the runway was sheer exhilaration. When the Captain spooled the engines up, this bird just roared, sprinted and took off effortlessly. It will be an understatement if I don’t call the 747-400 a Josh machine.

Sample external shots of LH757 at departure
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_2.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_2a.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_3.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_3a.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_3b.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh757_4.jpg

Sometime after take off, drinks were served. I am a teetotaler, but was keen on trying sparkling wine out, which the flight attendants served without any fuss. What followed was a surprise – a full Asian Veggie meal served at approx. 3:30am

I generally can’t sleep at all in seats, and so just closed my eyes and rested. Approx. 6 hours into the flight, breakfast was served – good omelette with everything else that came standard on the tray. We landed in Frankfurt at approx. 07:45am local time Frankfurt.

The old lettering at Frankfurt Airport
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-frankfurt_main.jpg

On arrival, we were surprised to see that the aircraft was not allocated an air bridge, and it was going to be a bus ride to the terminal; again a first time experience getting off a 747 via the stairway. When we were asked to disembark via the rear door, and I reached there, I was frozen by the draft of cool air at 11 degrees C. I made my way off the aircraft as quickly as I could into one of the buses waiting there. Only then did I get some relief; from molten Mumbai to freezing Frankfurt. Phew !!!

Sample picture to indicate how high up the Boeing 747-400 main deck is
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lufthansab747_stepladder1.jpg

Sample view of the wings
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lufthansab747400_wing1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lufthansab747400_wing2.jpg

View of the Boeing 747-400 from inside the bus
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-b747engineview_frombus.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lufthansab747400_sideview.jpg

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Old 30th April 2021, 14:41   #6
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At Frankfurt Airport

On arrival, we first had to confirm the status of my colleague’s return tickets. The ticketing helpdesk at the airport mentioned that there were no reservations at all for my colleague for the date mentioned. She also said that the return flight viz. LH756 for that date was full, but said she could do a reservation for the next day at no extra charge. Once that was sorted out and the endorsement stub was stuck on his flight coupons, we proceeded to passport control where a grumpy officer was munching away at a slice of pizza, looked at the Schengen Visa, stamped and returned my passport and we were good to go to Security and then to the next gate.

Boarding the next aircraft and the experience on board

Due to extra time spent in disembarking via the bus, getting to the terminal, getting my colleague’s tickets sorted out, moving to passport control and then security, we barely had 15 minutes before boarding our next flight to Oslo - a 10am service being performed by an SAS McDonnell Douglas MD-82.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-82
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-sas_md82_1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-sas_md82_2.jpg

Boarding was via an air-bridge, and we were greeted by two senior, yet charming flight attendants . This aircraft was unique in itself :

1. 3 -2 seating in each row except at the aft
2. engines nacelles painted red
3. engines mounted on the fuselage right at the end, and
4. the horizontal stabilizer mounted high up, away from the engine exhaust gas path

I observed that this aircraft taxiied to the runway, and without stopping, turned into the runway and just took off. The aircraft take off and ascent was super-fast, and the looks and performance of this aircraft gave the feel of being in a sports car. We were served a meal on board which was some cold paneer with cherry tomato and some salad; good enough for the short flight.

SAS MD-82 taking off
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-sas_md82takeoff_1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-sas_md82_takeoff2.jpg

Arrival at Olso Gardermoen Airport – Sunday mid-day

The Oslo airport was virtually empty. Bags arrived with no damage, and we were out after a quick security check. On exiting, we exchanged some USD for NOK, then proceeded to check for trains to a small countryside station called Porsgrunn. There was a train scheduled at 1:08pm and we got tickets for NOK 345 each in First Class, since we were not sure of seats availability in the regular class for NOK 310.

We then proceeded to the Oslo Lufthavn station below the airport arrivals and the train rolled in at 1:07pm. We got seated comfortably, and when inside, the ticket examiner said we would get a newspaper and could also pick up a beverage for free. I settled for hot chocolate (sjokolade).

Train to Porsgrunn - that's my boss and me seated in First Class
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-nsbtraintoporsgrunn_kontorclass.jpg

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Old 30th April 2021, 15:05   #7
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Arrival at Porsgrunn and onward to Langesund

The train quite resembled any Indian Metro of today but with superior seats, and we were in Porsgrunn at approx. 3:45pm. As we alighted, we saw nobody on the platform or anywhere around - a very strange sight since we were used to seeing people in hundreds at any point of time on any platform in India. It was a Sunday evening when we arrived in Porsgrunn, but it was still hard to believe that there was nobody around.

There was this small convenience joint at the platform and we needed to eat something. We got some buns and some coffee. Hot dogs were available but my colleagues weren't too comfortable trying that out.

Sample pics of Porsgrunn Station
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There were no cabs there at the time. There was nobody, except the guy at the store, whom we could ask on how to reach our hotel in Langesund. Finally we got to know that a bus would arrive in 10 minutes that would drop us off near the hotel. The bus that came resembled the low floor Volvo buses that operate in some cities. We paid some 20 NOK a head and were dropped at a bus stop near the hotel in approx. 35 minutes. It was a less than 5 minute walk to the Quality Hotel Skjærgården. We checked in without fuss, since our hosts had already made reservations, and I remember the tariff was a discounted USD110 a day.

The highlight of this hotel was that it had an indoor pool (Badeparken) where the water temperature would be maintained at a steady 30 degrees.C all through the year.

Quality Hotel Skjærgården
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Another unique observation – the sun would never set – it would go down at 12 midnight to something similar to 7 pm in Mumbai in summer, and be up within a few minutes, making is necessary to draw the curtains at night (there was no night, actually ). I'd open the curtains in the morning and get a great view of the Fjord, with ships sailing most of the time.

View from the hotel room
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-qualityhotelroom_fjordview.jpg

Finding a place to eat in Langesund

Although we’d made it to our nest, there was a challenge about finding food. There was this huge store across the road but all we could find there was some great fruits, and some bread. It was well stocked for those that had a cooking range. After a bit of scouting, we found an Asian restaurant about 20 minutes away on foot, and that became our regular dining joint for the duration of our stay there.

Walking to dinner (my boss and I clicked by my other colleague) - so much cladding in summer
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-langesund_walkingtodine.jpg

Bridge connecting Stathelle and Brevik on National Road Rv354
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-langesund_bridge.jpg

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Old 30th April 2021, 15:25   #8
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Monday to Friday

Breakfast was part of the deal, and what an elaborate spread it was. If one were to pick just one sample from each of their offerings at breakfast, it would need at least 10 tummies to consume that; arguably the most elaborate spread I've seen anywhere.

Post breakfast, we called for a radio taxi and were surprised at yet another revelation - all taxis in that county were either Mercedes or BMW. It was a 15 km drive to the company and we paid NOK 210 (USD30 approx.). The landscape at the company was just stunning

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-worklocation_norway2.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-worklocation_norway.jpg

We were accorded a warm welcome at the company, and they played very good hosts. Discussions were mutually enriching, and overall it was great to interact with a technically sound team. The plant was ultra neat even at 25 years of age and they had instituted several improvements in their processes and in design. Their compliance to environment standards was so fool-proof that water from the fjord was used for heat exchange and let back into the fjord, with absolutely no chance of the water picking up contamination.

The company hosted dinner for us one evening, and we rode in one of our hosts’ Volvo.
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-langesund_onwaytodinner.jpg

Departure Friday to Oslo

We checked out of the hotel Friday morning, paid our bills in USD using travelers cheques, and left for the company taking our luggage along. After wrapping up our final discussions, we were finally driven down from the company to Porsgrunn Station in a Mercedes, driven by a gentleman who used to work as Maintenance Manager till his retirement in the company that we visited. He mentioned that the lifestyle in Norway was rather flat – everybody lived as classy as the other. Income tax was 40%, and compliance to tax paying was 100%. He also mentioned that he was earning more driving a taxi than he was when he was in that senior role in the company.

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-departure_langesund.jpg

Once in Porsgrunn, we got train tickets in the regular class at less than NOK 300 a head. The seats were the same as the ones in Kontor class on our inbound journey but there was no conference style seating, no newspaper and no free beverage. We alighted at the National Theatret station in Oslo, close to the hotel that we were booked in.

Three of us snapped at the National Theatret station
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-oslostation_threesome.jpg

We checked in to the rather cramped hotel, found a place outside to dine, finished dinner, and dozed off since we had to leave for Oslo Luftahvn early next morning for our flight. I was rudely woken up by my boss at 3 am stating that we were late, only to realize it was a false alarm because of the bright sun outside. In any case, we were scheduled to get up at 4 am to get ready for departure.

Airport Express Train (Flytoget)

Having done our homework the previous evening on logistics to get to the airport, we found that the best and quickest way was to take the Flytoget airport express train from the National Theatret station. Tickets were available at the hotel for NOK 150 per passenger, and we were out of the hotel by 5:45am to take our train to be in the Airport by 6:45am, well in time for check in.

Flytoget - the Airport express train
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-norway_flytoget1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-norway_flytoget2.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-norway_flytoget3.jpg

Our colleague, who was to take the next day’s flight, got to see Oslo in all splendor on their National Day

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-oslo-nationalday_2003.jpg

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Old 30th April 2021, 15:35   #9
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Bye Bye Norway

My boss and I took an SAS MD-82 back to Frankfurt and were given a remote bay to park, but this gave me a good opportunity to see something unique about the MD-82 – the tailcone exit. This is the exit at the rear end of the aircraft, where the tail gate would open out, and one could walk out of the aircraft.

Rear end of the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 - note the 3-2 seating with 2-2 at the end
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-md82_rearend.jpg

Rear exit
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-md82_tailconeexit.jpg

Sample pic of Tail cone exit deployed
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-md82_tailconestairdeployed.jpg

Sample pic of the Tail cone shut
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-md82_tailconeshut.jpg

Our next flight, Lufthansa LH756 (a Boeing 747-400) left on time at 01:40 pm and was a smooth flight back to Mumbai. There were two meal services on this flight as well.

LH756 taking off
Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh756_takeoff1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh756_intheair1.jpg

Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life-lh756_intheair2.jpg

Memories of the trip

On arrival in Mumbai at 01:15 am, we were excited to be back in our country, but sweet memories of this short trip kept moving across my eyes. We left Sahar Airport at 04:30 am to be in time to catch the Shatabdi Express at Mumbai Central departing 06:25 am. The train sported old ICF coaches then with the pantry staff in that grotesque blue uniform, in stark contrast to the bliss that we experienced on the NSB. Yes, Shatabdi was much faster than the Norwegian trains but the on-board service on Shatabdi then was nowhere as good as it was till pre-COVID time in India.

The trip was special in many ways. The experience of flying the 747-400 and the MD-82, the rejuvenating experience at the company, breath of fresh air in Norway – all these left an ever lasting impression on me.

Would I want to visit Norway again?

Definitely yes, and several times. Next time, I’d want to explore the whole country, especially the Atlantic Road. Do hope that happens soon !!!

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Old 1st May 2021, 06:16   #10
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 1st May 2021, 07:34   #11
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Nice! I was in Oslo at the peak of winter, enjoyed the excellent "free" (after paying for the monthly pass) public transport and even today remember the overpriced tourist traps! 😁

Have to fish out my old photos and take a trip down memory lane. Thanks for sharing your experience.
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Old 1st May 2021, 07:40   #12
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Hey Vigsom,
Yet another splendid thread. It made me remember my first international trip in 2013 to the US. I was 11 at the time and the moment I'd seen NYC from the flight, I was floored. The whole experience of visiting a new country is thrilling and leaves an impression forever.
Hoping things settle and I can take another trip like that!

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Old 1st May 2021, 10:41   #13
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Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. I can remember my very first flight too and what an experience it was! You captured it well.

I have flown those SAS MD82 countless times over the years between Amsterdam and various Nordic countries. As with all twin engines, they have a huge excess amount of paper as they need to be able to take off and climb on just one engine.

So yes, they can be very nippy so toesprak.

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Old 1st May 2021, 18:01   #14
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Very interesting. I live 130 km from Porsgrunn. I used to drive an 18 wheeler in that part of the country.
My first international trip arboad was to India at age 5 on the SS Rajula and later on on the SS State of Madras and the SS Sydney. I have been to India 4 times.

In 1970 I travelled on the State of Madras alone and since Pakistan would not give me a visa (for my own safety they said), experienced my first flight. It was on an Afgan Airlines DC4 from Amritsar to Kabul. I was refused a visa but we had to land at Rawalpindi due to issues with the plane. There I was well looked after by 2 policemen for a few hours. They took me around the airport treating me to local food.

Taxes are 40% upwards but we get value for money. All healthcare is free, Schools at all levels are free and every resident if unemployed is given a minimum amount to stay alive and house rent covered.

I experienced the healthcare system first hand in December when I suffered a heart attack up on the mountains. It was a VIP treatment I got. Was flown by helicopter and 90 minutes after I called emergency services, wheeled into surgery. All for free. I was given a single room with room service.
My high taxes had caused me lots of irritation but since December, I pay my taxes with pleasure.
If you ever come back, do give me a yell.

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Old 2nd May 2021, 11:45   #15
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Default Re: Norway in 2003 | My first international trip in life

I don't usually read travelogues, but did check out all the pictures here, simply because it made me nostalgic! How different the world was in 2003. When I flew to the USA for my MBA, 25 people came to drop me, I had forex cheques in my pocket, there was no WhatsApp or international mobile phones (bought a calling card from the airport) and best of all, the ticket from Mumbai to Boston cost 35 - 40k! Had a camera with a physical roll inside to click all the USA pictures .

Thanks for sharing, man! Will go to our homepage in the coming week .

Last edited by Sheel : 2nd May 2021 at 12:08.
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