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There is a self confessed mass murderer not far from me having his day in court.

A TV camera is trained on this comfortable man with a pencil beard as he smiles to those around him and calmly waits for the return of his handcuffs and the ride back to prison.

Survivors of Utøya Island say Anders Behring Breivik also smiled and whooped with joy last July as he spent an hour and a half hunting and slaughtering young political activists on a summer camp.

Whether the 33 year old killed 77 people is not in question. He admits it. This case must decide Breivik’s sanity and somehow explain to Norway what happened.

The details of July 22, 2011 are finally coming out in this Central Oslo court room.

Parents are finding out how their children died and survivors are revealing close calls with a gunman coldly dressed as a police officer.

What is the latest? After killing and maiming on the island, Anders Behring Breivik asked for a band-aid for a cut finger and, according to the police he surrendered to, he posed like a bodybuilder for shirtless arrest photos.

Breivik says he won’t crack in the courtroom. He says he trained himself for years to not feel for his victims.

We now know he’s been toying with politically-motivated violence, or shall we just call it terrorism, since he was 19 years old.

Media coverage of Breivik’s trial is intense.

Media organisations have large reporting units devoted to the July 22 case and there are transmission trucks, security fencing and sound stages permanently stationed out the front of the courthouse.

Seats to watch the trial had been allocated weeks ago.

The courthouse is also magnet for the grieving, curious and angry public. Inexplicably, a man set himself on fire and tumbled with security guards on one recent day, while the brother of one of the victims threw a shoe at Breivik on another.

The fencing at the court’ entrance is decorated with flowers, photos and other tokens of devotion. Every day there is something new.

Here is one of the headlines of July 22 kept for posterity under glass cleanly cracked by the shock wave of the initial explosion.

The building which houses the VG newspaper is just over the way from the government building Breivik tried to destroy first.

The explosion did not cause buildings to collapse, but killed eight people, injured others and caused damage that will take many, many more months to repair.

While the bomb detonated in Oslo, Anders Behring Breivik was on the road. He says he heard on his car radio that he’d failed to bring down buildings and, according to him, kill enough people.

So he turned his attention to Utøya Island.

Understandably, you can’t go out to the island at the moment but you can have a moment at a small July 22 memorial on the roadside.

There’s a makeshift visitor’s book under the roadside memorial rock as well as lollies and a packet of biscuits.

There are messages from all over the world, but many are from other young Norwegians trying to make sense of it all.

Some lives were saved on the island and here, on the wharves, that day.

The people of the nearby trailer park heard Breivik’s gunfire and tried to save people escaping the slaughter on the island.

Breivik was still shooting, shouting “today you will die Marxists” and the water was turning red.

This terrible event, which has rocked Norway and stunned the world, is almost a year old. For me, July 22 has parallels with the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. Namely, the survival of the shooter, the quest for some sort of fame and, sadly, the high body count.

I was an ABC cadet journalist in Hobart back then in ’96. I was just starting out in my career, confronted by an extraordinarily shocking, wasteful and miserable happening.

Norwegians are trying to understand why one of their own would do this. Oslo is a “little town in the valley” one retired Navy man in Bergen told me “how could this happen here?”

July 22 appears to have backfired on Anders Behring Breivik anyway. As this monument reads a now famous tweet about the massacre, “If a man can show so much hatred, think of so much love we can show together.”

Far from knocking out Norway’s young labour movement, he appears to inspired them to carry on.

 

The ends of the earth; I’ll go to them for a great story, hell I’ll physically head there to be round on by penguins, but Norwegians are something else entirely.

With their proximity to the North Pole, extreme weather know-how, fearless sense of adventure and a background in whaling, it is no co-incidence that many of the world’s great polar explorers hail from Norway.

Roald Amundsen, of course, was the first man to pierce a flag in the South Pole ice, either Leonard Kristensen or Carsten Borchgrevink were the first to step foot on the Antarctic mainland and Fridtjof Nansen tested a remarkable theory about shipping to the North Pole trapped in ice.

So as a two-time veteran iceberg and icefloe reporter, I could not help but seek out (read: avoid) Norway’s polar treats.

Meet Fram.

Now spending its old age resting in an Oslo museum, this 100 plus year old wooden ship is not so much an icebreaker, but an ice-survivor.

From 1893 to ‘96, Fridtjof Nansen used the specially designed Fram to drift with the Arctic ice-sheet in the hope it would eventually pass over the North Pole. At that time, no human had managed to be that far north before.

Fram’s time in the crushing ice remains one of the straight up, most insane maritime mission ever mounted, mainly because so much of it involved involuntary movement.

The ship went where the ice wanted to go. So, so to did its deliberately stranded men in the Arctic winter darkness and the summer’s blinding light.

The ship went as high in latitude as 84 degrees north, while Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen later tried to sledge it to the pole. The duo managed to just pass 86 degrees. No pole, but it was an incredible feat.

It is not today’s look, but here’s 100 year old polar expedition wear Norwegian style.

The early polar explorers borrowed from Norway’s indigenous Sami culture and used bear, deer and seal skins if they wanted to survive the harsh polar conditions.

Here’s a close encounter with a fake polar bear in a Fram Museum “fright walk” for the kiddies.

It worked a treat on a whimpering eight year old behind me and ensured my time in the deliberately small pathway was short as she pushed me back into the wider museum.

This is what she needed..

It is the monkey mascot from a 1925 attempt by Roald Amundsen and five others to fly over the North Pole in two planes.

The attempt failed with mechanical failure at 87°43′ N, but Amundsen later managed to drop a Norwegian flag over the pole from an airship suitably called “Norge.”

Time for a penguin break..

There are, of course, no penguins naturally living north of the equator. So here are some sub-Antarctic gentoos looking adorable in the Bergen Aquarium.

They don’t have the biggest living space, but apart from one case of over plucking they seemed happy enough.

I visited the aquarium an hour off feeding time so the gentoos looked at people expectantly and unsuccessfully for fish.

The gentoos all have harmless coloured clips on their flipper-like wings to individually identify them.

The Bergen cold was no problem as they swam routinely around the small pool with a rocky island “rookery.”

I could have stayed for the penguin dinner, but I had my own to go to..

I also had to press on north beyond the Arctic Circle to Tromsø which is sprucing up for the summer after a long, dark, snowbound winter.

Teams are out hosing off the dirty remnants of winter from Tromsø’s roofs, walls and roads.

A dare you to find a cleaner town at the moment.

Roald Amundsen’s name, face and impressive eyebrows are everywhere. There are historical street signs, numerous statues and busts about town and a Polar Museum with a dedicated section to the man who beat Robert Falcon Scott.

At 69.6667 degrees N, Tromsø is a true polar gateway. It is where Amundsen was last seen in 1928 as he flew off on a rescue mission on the “Latham 47” to save other polar explorers.

His body, and those of his fellow would be rescuers, were never found.

Parts of the plane were later discovered floating in the water with modifications. It is presumed that some onboard survived for sometime until the bulk of the plane sank in the icy waters.

There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to find the Latham’s wreckage. The last attempt was in 2009 by the Norwegian Navy.

It is not all Amundsen around here.

Here is a tribute to Helmer Hanssen. The talented dog driver was part of the successful Amundsen South Pole team. He was ahead nearing the pole, but stopped to ensure that Amundsen truly was the first person at 90 degrees south.

It is a good, interesting walk around the Polar Museum, that is if you don’t mind animal skins.

By skins, I mean baby harp seals and tiny polar bear cubs. Still, museums are about history and that is what used to be done in these parts.

There is a beautiful Tromsø day outside and I’d better get out in it.

It is now light 24 hours a day and the start of the midnight sun is just a few days away. One of the perks of being near one of the poles.

One of the must visit places in Israel is, remarkably, an exaltation of suicide.

Masada is an ancient wonder, a Dead Sea beauty and a place of fanatical inspiration.

What happened here in 73AD was disturbing, bloody and now defines Israel as a symbol of freedom.

After staring down the Roman legion, almost one thousand people died here at their own hands. Children, mothers, virtually the entire community took their lives rather than become slaves.

Israeli historians describe the Zealots as emerging “victorious even in defeat.”.. but this version of history is being challenged.

I didn’t find any of this out by watching the lavishly produced instructional video prior to staging my own assault on the fortress of Masada.

Unfortunately it was in Hebrew with Russian subtitles. The doors had closed tight at both ends of the theatre so there was no choice but to soak up the dramatic, but unintelligible production.

Soon enough we were launched into the sky above the Negev Desert. You can spend 45 minutes trudging to the top, but my friend and I went up the cheater’s way, the Masada cable car.

The small little box takes just a few minutes to complete a journey that took the Romans many months.

It looks high, but is it? There is a strange Dead Sea calculation to Masada despite the plateau towering over the area.

Masada rises up 450 metres, but being next to the lowest place on earth, we only end up 58 metres above sea level.

Climbing Masada the old fashioned way, up the winding ”snake path”, is a rite of passage for new recruits of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The young men and women climb charge up the slopes with their packs and at the top swear allegiance to Israel declaring, “Masada shall not fall again.”

Originally built decades by the Judean king, Herod, as a palatial refuge, it was later used by the Romans before the Zealots took over in 70AD. They were running from the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple and the Romans wanted to crush them.

The 73AD Roman siege was classic and effective. Around 8000 soldier constructed a giant dirt and wood ramp to the west and after many months began to batter Masada’s walls.

Isolated on top, the Zealots were not going to be taken alive. When all hope was believed lost they systematically took their own lives, made sure others did the same and set Masada on fire.

Here’s a male Tristam’s Grackle or starling.

The birds of Masada allow people to get extremely close. Almost near enough to touch.

Anyway, the version of Masada – that suicide something to celebrate – has been challenged by some Israelis, particularly educators. The main elements of the Masada story are also being questioned.

Were they all Zealots? Did they all willingly die? How long did the siege truly go for? .. and what if everyone chose the path taken in 73AD?

Here’s my fantastic travelling companion Peter Cave. He’d been to Masada before but he was easily convinced to go one more time. Between you and me I think he secretly likes driving in Israel.

We avoided the big tourist groups for a while by wandering south to what is known as the Roman area. There is less here associated with the Jewish rebels so work here is minimal.

We found this bent nail, perhaps a Roman nail, on the ground. It was left there of course, but there it is: a common item that could be thousands of years old.

There’s very little sign now of the mass suicide all those years ago. The drama was exhaustively recorded by the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius, but few bodies were later found by archaeologists.

The Roman siege wall can still be seen and climbed off Masada’s west flank and it is gradually falling away back into the desert.

Tourist flood Masada. This group is following the white dove of peace.

Many of the ancient buildings have been restored. In this photo you may be able to see a faint line above the heads of the tourists.

That’s what it looked like when Masada was found again in 1842. Excavations and restoration have been underway since the 1960s and in 2001, UNESCO inscribed Masada as a World Heritage Site.

Here is a view of one of the largest Roman camps. Imagine the Zealots staring down every day watching the ramp rise towards them.

There were eight camps in total surrounding the plateau.

I’m not certain what this critter is, but it darn cute and has no tail. My Google skills have come up with the possibility that it is the Golden Spiny Mouse, but proper identification will be gratefully accepted.

The featured mouse, rat, gerbil or dwarf ferrety thing darted around the side of Masada with no fear of heights. It did, however, have an intense wariness of humans and Tristam’s Grackles.

Masada’s mosaics and stucco paintings have survived the past two thousand years in the Negev Desert.

This design in the bathing area of the Western Palace has been used a symbol for Masada.

Historians talk about the contrast between the luxury of the king who ordered the construction of Masada and the poverty of the Zealots who ended up destroying it.

.. and here is the big secret to surviving on top of an isolated desert plateau besieged by Romans intend on making  you a slave: giant, cavernous pools of fresh water.

This is deep inside the southern water cistern: the largest water collection place on the plateau.

The planning that went into Masada was so good that the fortress became an oasis in the desert. Roman style bathhouses were found among the ruins.

Speaking of baths I later had one in the Dead Sea. Touring Masada was hard work, but this may not have been the soothing soak I was after.

Floating around on the salty, warm, dirty water between Israel and Jordan is a rite of passage for tourists and I just had to do it.

The high salt content makes swimmers especially buoyant and it is a strange sensation bobbing around like you are hollow inside.

It was time for hookah on the beach for these guys.

The Dead Sea water was warm and remarkably slimy. You don’t want to get any of the iconic, but dirty water in your mouth or on any open cuts as that would be suicidal behaviour.

Who deliberately rubs salt into wounds?