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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Norway in a Nutshell



"What is a fjord?" I found myself asking as I embarked on my 6 hour train ride from Oslo to Voss, Flam & Bergen (Norway in a Nutshell).
Well, according to dictionary.com, it's "a long, narrow arm of the sea bordered by steep cliffs: usually formed by glacial erosion." Pretty cool, right? The anticipation of experiencing these magnificent_creations with all 5 senses was enough to make me downright giddy!

During the train portion of the trip, there were several stops with photo ops for us to get out and digitally chart our adventures. A nice guy from Brazil, named Ivan, happened to be traveling solo, so we bonded and became tour buddies for the day. He was a rather interesting guy, very kind, funny and
interestingly enough had gone 25+ years without ever seeing snow! Well, lucky for him, as our train climbed the mountains that lead to the west coast there was plenty of snow for him to absorb. When we arrived at a midway point where we had to switch trains I was able to reconnect with Thelma (who I met in Stockholm) and she, Ivan and I enjoyed the 2nd half of the train ride together. One point of interest along the way was the GINORMOUS Kjosfossen Waterfall (free fall of 305 ft) and a prime Kodak moment spot! The kicker with this attraction was the unexpected dancing "Maiden of the Mist" singing her alluring song and frolicking about on top of the waterfall - definitely a tourist gimmick, but appreciated nonetheless!

At last we reached Flam where we mosied about for a bit awaiting the boat trip through the fjords. After saying "I'll see you later" to Thelma, Ivan and I
boarded the vessel and we were off. A quick disclaimer here: Neither words, nor pictures can do this portion of my trip justice, but that won't keep me from trying. The best reference I can mesh together in my head is that the western part of the country with the fjords and mountains is most similar to a hybrid of Colorado and New Zealand...seriously! Snow-capped mountains that cascade into emerald fortresses of flourishing fauna sporadically interrupted by rushes of white water here and there. AMAZING! Even the profiles of the mountains, so smooth and delicate, yet intimidating were a wonder to my eyes. Upon seeing a group of people kayaking, I knew that some day I must return to get a more authentic experience! Ivan and I just snapped away for hours taking breaks only for rain and hot chocolate (it was cold)!

Finally we reached Gudvangen where we disembarked and waited for charter buses to take us to Voss where we would board one last train to Bergen (our final destination). Here we passed the time with an impromptu photo shoot (with a viking statue, mini viking ship, a troll, and a grass roofed hotel). Good times! I loved that Ivan was up for all of my nonsense!

Upon reaching Bergen, I had no idea where my
hostel was...ok, i mean i had a hint of an idea, but never actually wrote down directions (Ulf had shown me a video online that traced the path to the hostel and i just figured I'd remember) ha! The point of telling you this is that this is TOTALLY out of character for me - to be so carefree - but I love it! Ladies and gents...this is what Europe can do for you...do I sound like a walking ad? Therefore, I accompanied Ivan to his place only to find a loooong line of patrons waiting to check in. I (still being impatient) decided to just "go look for my hostel" and meet back up with him at a predetermined spot for dinner. Well, while I was walking, God blessed me with running smack dab into the tourist info center. What luck! I went in only seeking guidance to find my hostel, but came out with a Glacier hiking tour itinerary in hand! Ya, I hiked a glacier, haha! So...the background - A friend of mine in Chicago had been to Scandinavia and hiked a glacier and when looking at her pics I thought it would be super cool to do this too, but didn't see it fitting in during my limited stay and on my limited budget! Well, it turns out, a 3 hour hike isn't that expensive and I was seriously like "What the heck! When am I going to have this opportunity again?" So I made the executive decision to splurge and push myself out of my comfort zone a bit and just go with it! That night I did find my hostel and it was super nice! Met up with Thelma again too - she was staying at my ho
stel!!! The 3 of us went for dinner at Pepe's pizza splitting a half Thai, half Mexican Taco pizza (in Norway), haha! We also saw a famous blond American actress at the restaurant, but none of us can put a name to her, frustrating! My two compadres were leaving the next day, so we said our farewells and parted ways!

I was somehow awake and conscious the next morning at 7am and boarded the bus for my 2 hour
trip (bus/boat/bus)! I was surprised to see that the location of my glacier hike was actually a ski/snowboarding resort and was a bit bummed that I wouldn't be skiing! I did however take my first snowmobile ride. I must say that hiking the glacier was one of the most thrilling things I've ever done! It was so serene, peaceful and stunning that all I wanted to do was soak it up with every part of my being! I met some nice people on the trek...a few Americans, French, and Germans. We learned the basics of survival on the glacier and were given the necessary gear (helmet, pick axe, clampons, and harnesses). I must admit that I had my reservations on roping myself to 14 other people while traipsing about the ice, but luckily for us all, there were no falls! Whew! Another funny note: It didn't occur to me that I should have told my parents or another family member that I was hiking a glacier until I was standing atop it in all it's glory! Haha...thankfully I was able to tell them when I returned!

After a full and exhausting day 7-7, I was pooped! I arrived back at the hostel in Bergen and changed out of my sopping wet jeans and headed to the local 50's style diner (Capella) for some grub of traditional Norwegian pancakes, brown cheese and a much deserved milk shake! Then went to my first "Cyber House" to use the good ol' internet to inform my loved ones on all my adventures!


My last day in Bergen I slept in a bit and headed to the local grocery to buy breakfast (a great savvy shopping tip). Upon checking out, I found that there were free computers to use for customers, which was most convenient, but made me regret my cyber experience a bit, haha! The rest of the day I spent falling in love with Bergen. It's such a quaint picturesque town. I visited an intriguing cathedral with a spell bounding organ playing. I contributed to an outdoor rainbow art display, visited the fish market for a snack and was able to try 2 kinds of caviar...a little salty for my liking. My favorite part of the day was the view from the outlook atop the funicular. The perfect way to get your grounding and see all the town has to offer. I sat up there and breathed it all in and read for a while before reluctantly taking the funicular back. At this point, my time in Bergen was waning so I just poked around here and there. Saw some old churches, a fort and randomly ran into my roomate from my first night in Bergen. Small world! Before I knew it, my fairytale time in Bergen had come to an end and I was boarding a train back to Oslo to see Ulf an Norma one more night before hopping another train/bus/train to Copenhagen.

Arriving in Copenhagen with a 4 hour wait time till my flight I was antsy to get to London, my layover city for the night. Reason being, I was meeting back up with my two Texas friends that I met on the plane ride from JFK to London. Angela was actually flying out of Heathrow the same day and time as me and I invited them to stay at my luxurious Crown Plaza Hotel with me. Arriving late that night, we made the most of our time together...telling hilarious stories, scheming on an opportunity to move to Europe, and taking an hour long photo shoot incognito (we were ninjas) haha! Ahhhh...needless to say, I was going to be more than ok if I missed my flight the next morning and had to stay a month in London with afran (Aaron from TX)! Oh well, all good things come to an end right? Booo...Don't fret, I have many many plans to return to these glory days! Keep tuning in and perhaps I'll give you the scoop!

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Velkkomen Till Norgay!

"Save The Best For Last"...this old adage rang true during my Scandinavia tour.

Norway, the 3rd and final leg of my trip was by far one of the most picturesque places I've ever been. Upon immediate arrival, I hopped a train to Larvik - a small town on the coast of the Oslo fjord - about 2 hours from Oslo. After staying in hostels for several days at this point, you can imagine my excitement when I found out from my dear Auntie that I would have my own room and bathroom for 3 whole days!!! Whoo hoo! I also enjoyed being greeted by my Great Aunt at the train station with a big smile and a hug...there's just something about familiarity that soothes the soul.

My three days in with the fam, were so sweet. I was treated like a princess by my generous hosts and thoroughly enjoyed the quality time with my Aunt and Uncle. Uncle Ulf was so excited for my arrival that he had a whole 3 day itinerary planned out for me, which of course he said I could modify, but he was so excited I wouldn't dare...plus, they were all things that I would enjoy! So as not to bore you, I'll just give you the rundown of our activities with a few details here and there. We scoured the whole town of Larvik, stopping at the Larvikete Quarry where they mine, you guessed it, Larvikete, which is basically a type of granite (shades of blacks, grays and blues) that's very pretty when shined. I was also introduced to other quaint towns, sleepy harbors, beautiful beaches, a viking ship dig (where a real ship was excavated), Morel - a viking stone burial ground (basically a beach comprised of stones with real tombs below) kinda eerie to walk over the mounds and feel the hollowness below, a navy church, German barricades, gunners & bunkers, meeting Chamille (Ulf's pregnant daughter, and tons of Norwegians eating "is" (ece) aka ice cream. The days were jam packed, but leisurely (if that's possible)...every day was started with a hearty breakfast, compliments of Aunt Norma and filled with grand tours by Ulf. I especially enjoyed returning home in the evenings to lounge around, hike, listen to Ulf play piano, eat good veggie food, and sleep in!


At this point I am feeling recharged and ready to tackle my next adventure! Fortunately for me, my Aunt and Uncle planned to escort me to Oslo and planned for us to stay overnight at his son's house there. This day we accomplished what Ulf liked to call "American Sight-Seeing," which he believes is worse than the Japanese...i beg to differ...Basically, Ulf was our chauffer all day, driving us from attraction to attraction. Hitting up the Ski Jump, Kon-Tiki Museum and Viking Ship Museum. My favorite stop by far was the Vigeland Sculpture Park! An amazing feat.... The park contains 192 sculptures with more than 600 figures, all modeled in full size by Gustav Vigeland . The Monolith is especially interesting bc it towers 14.12 meters (46.32 ft.) high and is comprised of 121 human figures rising toward heaven. This is meant to represent man’s desire to become closer with the spiritual and divine. It portrays a feeling of togetherness as the human figures embrace one another as they are carried toward salvation. Wow...pretty deep, I mean high :)

We ended the Oslo in a Nutshell in what Ulf affectionately called "Oslo's Living Room". A central pier that encompassed restaurants, street vendors, condos, shops, statues and the like.

We spent the evening with Ulf's son and his family and enjoyed watching one of the EuroCup semi-final games (Spain vs. Germany)...it's kinda a big deal there...so i hear!

Then the next morning I was off to the train at 8:11am for my solo adventure on the Norway in a
Nutshell tour. Lucky for me, I knew I wouldn't be alone on this one...I met Thelma (a girl from Purdue) in Stockholm who happened to be taking the same tour as me on the same day and staying at the same hostel in Bergen! --If that's not a God-incident, I don't know what is! Before I met her, I had felt lonely and prayed for God to bring someone "a friend" in my path...and i met her literally seconds later!

With mountains of memories behind me from Denmark, Sweden and Oslo, I was in for a treat - memories IN the mountains of Norway!