Oslo (reprise)

by Colleen Morrow in


Another day in Oslo!

Originally when planning the trip, we had another big hike that we wanted to do. But when it came time to figure out the detailed itinerary, I couldn’t figure out how to make everything work. So something had to go. And it was the hike. But that then left us with an extra day, which we ended up deciding to spend in Oslo.

It worked out well. There were a couple of things that hadn’t really fit in on our first few days in the city. Particularly, the Opera House. I had heard amazing things about it and we wanted to try to take a tour of it but they just weren’t offering them when we were there at the beginning of our trip. But there was one scheduled for our last day in Oslo. Also, we hadn’t really been able to fit the sculpture park in, so this extra day was perfect for that.

We started with the sculpture park, Vigeland Park. It’s the largest sculpture park created by one artist, with about 200 sculptures and took about 10 years to build. It was quite impressive, especially since there was both stone & metal statues. We had a nice sunny morning for our visit so walking through the park was quite enjoyable.

Then, we headed off to the Opera House. It was built about 10 years ago and it is an impressive building. First, you can walk on the roof. And I don’t mean there’s a balcony that you can go out on. Each side of the roof slopes right down to the ground, essentially creating a ramp to get up to a flatter area at the top of the building. It was so neat to walk up and look out over the water - though it was a bit windy. After we toured the outside, we went inside to wait for our tour. Our guide was a wealth of information about the building, telling us all sorts of interesting facts like how the inside is built in a way that dampens sound in the theatre, itself, and how the roof actually also doubles as an outdoor theatre (current record for the largest crowd - Justin Bieber.) We also got to see a little bit of a rehearsal for an upcoming production plus tour through the back-of-house. The building is absolutely incredible, I’m so glad we were able to fit it in.

We still had some time left in the afternoon and I was ready for a hot drink but we had trouble finding something. EDP was sure he had seen a nice place not too far from the Opera House but we couldn’t find it and ended up walking in a pretty big circle before we settled on something. I’d say it was a good way to see the neighbourhood but we had already seen it fairly thoroughly. It worked out in the end, though. The place we finally ended up at had lovely hot chocolate and I had the largest and tastiest Boston Cream donut I’d ever had. Then it was back to the hotel to get properly packed for the flights home before one last dinner in the city.

Just as with our flights in, EDP and I were flying back to different cities. My flight was the earlier flight, leaving Oslo at 7am for Copenhagen before going on to Toronto. EDP had more time with a 10am flight for Frankfurt but figured if I was getting up at 4 to leave for my flight, he might as well just go with me. We made it to the airport with no trouble although I did have trouble getting checked in. Neither of us were able to check in online but I also wasn’t able to check in at the kiosk at the airport. But, I did end up getting my boarding passes and security was relatively easy to get through. Then, it was just a matter of flying. My flights went well, aside from having the woman in the seat in front of me constantly ramming her seat into my knees (PSA: You don’t need to recline your seat on a plane. It seriously cuts down on the space the person behind you has. Don’t be a jerk - only recline when you’re sleeping and for the love of all that’s holy, if you are reclined, put your seat upright when people are eating. This ends my PSA.) EDP’s flight to SFO had a bit more exciting with someone being arrested when they landed.

So now we’re home - I have about 4 loads of laundry to do and 1300 photos to sort through (and major confession - I’m still not done with the photos from when my sister & I went to Scotland & Rome last spring nor have I even looked at the photos from when EDP & I went to Côte d'Azur last fall. Oops!) It was a wonderful trip; our time in Bergen & Oslo was delightful and the hiking was incredible, even if my knees didn’t really appreciate it.


Norway in a Nutshell

by Colleen Morrow in


It didn’t pour all day!

It was only a little bit drizzly when we left the hotel for our first train. After having our bags picked up by the porter service, we had breakfast and then headed up to the train station to catch the train to Voss. This first leg was just over an hour and I hadn’t been able to figure out which was the best side of the train to sit on. I think we picked the wrong side - we saw a lot of mountains but the other side got the views of the fjords, which were lovely. And there was only a little bit of rain!

Soon we arrived in Voss, where we (and the hundreds of other people doing the tour) had a short walk over to the Voss bus station where there were literally six buses all lined up, waiting for us. Okay, so confession time - Norway in a Nutshell is a really popular tour that gets you from Bergen to Oslo or from Oslo to Bergen or round trip from either city. It’s a series of tickets for a couple of trains, a ferry & a bus. And all of these are public routes. So you can buy your Norway in a Nutshell ticket from the NIAN people or you can buy all the pieces yourself and save a couple hundred dollars. Seriously, by booking it ourselves, I think we saved over $200 - and we were able to upgrade the longest train leg to first class. The only component we couldn’t book ahead of time - so the one that made me the most nervous - was the bus to Gudvangen. But, we just migrated over to the buses with everyone else, bought tickets as we got on and had no problems.

The bus was about an hour and took us through a couple of little towns, including Voss, which is a centre of adventure sports and is the home of the world’s most important extreme sports festival. The bus driver gave us all sorts of fun facts as he was driving us, which was an unexpected delight. We also took Norway’s steepest road to get into Gudvangen, which was only a little bit terrifying. How those buses navigated the hairpin turns is beyond me. The bus ride was fairly short and it dropped us off at the ferry dock for our luxury ferry cruise into Flåm. By this time, it was pretty clear we had left the rain behind but it was a bit cloudy so we found seats inside. The fjord was really lovely so after a bit, I head outside to get some photos and it was so nice, I dragged EDP out with me. It was quite nice to be outside, enjoying the scenery, until it got a bit too windy and then it was back inside until we docked at Flåm.

Originally, we had thought we would break our travel up and stay in Flåm overnight but ended up deciding it was best to get into Oslo in one day and have one extra day there in case something happened to delay us - with early morning flights, it didn’t seem wise to risk some sort of delay. so we scrapped the idea of staying in Flåm. I was a bit disappointed, everything I read said it was a really lovely little town. But I think maybe what tourists consider a lovely little town differs from what EDP and I consider a lovely little town. Because it was nothing more than a tourist trap. It was very pretty but every shop was tourist souvenirs and there really was not much to see or do there at all. We ended up mostly people watching until it came time for our train to Myrdal on the historic Flåm railway. We had about two hours in Flåm and it wasn’t until just before we were scheduled to leave that it started to rain again - pretty much ideal timing for getting onto a train.

The leg from Flåm to Myrdal was rumoured to be one of the best parts of the trip. I had read ahead of time about which was the best side to be on so we made sure we got on the right side for the trip. The train was surprisingly empty, which may be where our DIY version of the tour came in handy. Half of the train was for people on tours and half was for people who weren’t. There were definitely more people on tours than not so our half of the train was much less populated than the other side. It worked out well. While the views on our side were lovely, there were some pretty pleasing views on the other side, as well, and we were able to see both sides quite well. At one point, the train stopped and we were able to get off at a really beautiful waterfall where there was also some sort of dance performance to watch. A bit strange but a lovely touch? Soon enough, we were at the Myrdal train station where we had about an hour before our final leg into Oslo. Unfortunately, the Myrdal train station isn’t really suitable for several hundred people to wait for an hour. I can’t imagine how crazy it would be in the summer.

The train for the final leg into Oslo was a bit late but we were on it soon enough. When getting the tickets for the final leg, I booked us into comfort class - there was more leg room and with the long ride, the complimentary tea & coffee seemed worth it for the surprisingly low additional cost. And yep, it was worth it. The comfort car was at the end of the train and had far fewer seats than standard class so was much quieter and more comfortable. And for the five long hours we were on that leg coupled with the long day of travel, we were happy we had made the choice. We were late getting into Oslo but our final hotel was very close to the station so it wasn’t long before we were there and checked in. And our bags were waiting for us, as expected!

All in all, it was a really great way to get from Bergen back to Oslo. I’m glad we went the DIY route - we still came out ahead even with the comfort class upgrade and the porter service. It would have been completely feasible to do the tour with big suitcases (lots of luggage space on the trains, there was a luggage room on the cruise, luggage storage in Flåm, etc.) but man, was it ever nice not having to deal with bags. And it was a long day but we were really happy we didn’t book an overnight stay in Flåm. There’s only so much shopping one can do at the Mall of Norway - although, their magnet selection was unparalleled.


Bergen

by Colleen Morrow in


When we left Odda, we were expecting it to rain the entire time we were in Bergen. That wasn’t a surprise, Bergen gets a lot of rain every year. More rain than London. The England one, specifically. But we had rain jackets and umbrellas and extra shoes and were prepared.

On Friday, we woke up to no rain in the forecast. Which was fantastic because we had a walking tour scheduled for the morning. We headed down to the Tourist Information place, the starting spot for our tour, walking through the outdoor part of the fish market on our way. Soon enough, our guide, Maritn, had arrived and our tour got started. He took us into the indoor part of the fish market, first, showing us several of the different vendors and what they had in their cases, explaining about some of the products we could find there, including the king crabs that are taking over everything and the mink whale that’s a popular traditional meat in Norway. He also explained how some of the largest fishing companies in the world are based in Bergen and it’s becoming a larger industry than oil. From there, Martin took us around the city, showing us the main shopping square, the first theatre building, and the original city hall, just to name a couple of our stops, before leading us into the historic Bryggen area (where we’re staying.)

Brygeen is a UNESCO site consisting of a series of buildings that date back to the 1700s. Each of the historic buildings had warehouses & living quarters for up to 100 (mostly) German men, who were there as part of the Hanseatic League. The buildings are in use today but only for shops and offices - and still only have one bathroom per building. The League had established itself in the 1300s but in the early 1700s, there was a fire and the buildings were damaged. They were rebuilt and those are the buildings that still remain. Bergen has had a lot of fires, as everything is made of wood, but the fire in the early 1700s was one of the worst and destroyed almost the entire city. They rebuilt on top of the original foundations, though, so even though the buildings are only 300 years old, the foundations date back for hundreds of years more. From there, we went past St. Marys church on our way to the Bergenhus fortress. The tour packed a LOT into the two and a half hours we had with Martin and it was such a good tour. Martin shared so much about the city with us (like the best time to catch the funicular to avoid the cruise ship crowds and where to get the best coffee in the city) and it was such a great morning for a walk, with the sun shining down on us.

Once we were done, we re-evaluated our plans for our remaining time in Bergen. The original plan was to do a couple of museums after the tour and do the funicular & fortress tomorrow. But with the beautiful weather and rain being called for tomorrow, we shifted things around and decided to try to do the fortress and funicular today, leaving the indoor activities for tomorrow. Also, we had planned on doing the church on Saturday but Martin told us it wasn’t open on Saturdays and Sundays. So, when the tour wrapped up, we headed straight to the church - which we actually have a view of from our hotel room, which is a lovely view. St. Marys is the oldest building in Bergen, dating back to the 12th century and has been continuous use since the early medieval period. From there, we stopped for lunch at a Martin-approved restaurant (where EDP got a bowl of traditional Norwegian stew that seemed to be about 75% mussels.)

Then, it was on to the Bergenhus fortress to see the Rosenkrantz tower and the Hakon’s Hall. The tower was built by some Scottish masons and was in the style of fortified houses in Scotland (I suspect this is when my Scottish ancestors started their love affair with Norway.) It joined together two existing structures, one of which was the royal residence from the 13th century. It was a very confusing building to tour through, I’m not convinced we actually saw all of it. From there, it was on to Hakon’s Hall. Except it was closed for an event. So we scrapped that idea. It was still a bit early to head to the funicular, given the cruise crowds so we went to the Hanseatic Museum, which shows what the Bryggen buildings would have been like when they were in use for exporting fish and importing grain by the Hanseatic League. The building and it’s furnishings were really quite lovely, though the uneven floors made one feel a little bit drunk, even though one only had juice at lunch.

Then, it was on to the funicular. We got there at a great time, there was no line - whereas there had been quite a long one when we passed earlier in the day with our tour. The funicular takes you up to the top of Fløyen, one of the mountains in Bergen, which has incredible views of the city. It doesn’t take long to get up to the top and we were soon overlooking the city and the harbours. The day was sunny & warm so I tottered off to get some ice cream while EDP stayed at the edge of the viewing platform to take in the views. There’s lots of hiking up on the mountain, but as you may recall, we had recently taken a few long walks so we didn’t feel compelled to do any more. We did take a short walk around the immediate area, meeting several very lovely goats. Luckily, we got there just before feeding time so I was able to give a few of them some pets before they started acting exactly as you would expect goats to act when someone had a bag of feed in their hands. Then, it was back to the hotel for a bit of downtime before dinner, another outdoor-with-blankets affair that is quickly becoming my favourite way to dine.

We woke up this morning with most of what we had planned already done - only Hakon’s Hall was on our list. I had really wanted to see Bryggen Museum but it’s closed for renovations. That meant we could fit in a couple of the Kode museums, which we didn’t think we’d have time for. We figured that all out after breakfast, during which time I was snacking on a delicious, fresh warm bolle that EDP picked up for me when he went out to grab coffee. I do always enjoy a snack right after breakfast. Once the snack was taken care of, we headed to Hakon’s Hall, which was open! It dates back to the 13th century and was built by King Hakon Hakonsson. Cool name, right? It was part of the royal residence when the political centre of Norway was in Bergen but the monarch left for a while around the Middle Ages so it turned into a storage facility. Then, it kinda fell to disrepair but was restored as a storehouse in the 17th century and then they figured out what it had originally been used for so they restored it again. But then a munitions ship exploded in 1944 and pretty much destroyed everything but the external walls. The pictures of it after the explosion were crazy, it was essentially a roofless shell. But they restored it and now it’s used for important occasions again. The main hall is incredible, with these gorgeous wooden beams stretching across the ceiling. It was definitely worth the wait to see it.

Then, it was on to the Kode museums - specifically, Kode 3 & 4. Kode 3 was our first stop, which had some odd modern art on the main floor (I never understand modern art…) but had a Munsch exhibit along with some other Norwegian painters on the second floor. I enjoyed that part much more - and it was good to be introduced to some other Norwegian painters. Then it was on to Kode 4 where we accidentally started in the children’s museum, something we could have done without. We recovered from that experience with a drink in the bar. Then it was upstairs to the grown up art, where they had a fairly extensive Picasso exhibition that included artists influenced by him, along with a really lovely exhibition on Nikolai Astrup, which I really enjoyed. It was a pleasant surprise to be able to fit the museums in. Once we were through the two museums, it was time for a late lunch (hotdogs) and then back to the hotel for some downtime. That turned out really well because it started raining. And it poured. But we were snug inside, with our books and our view of the church and a light supper in the hotel, sparing us from having to go out in the downpour - and it was really coming down.

Now we’re all packed up and ready for a long day of travel tomorrow. We’re doing the Norway in a Nutshell tour to get back to Oslo, a full day of trains, ferries & buses, which promise stunning views of the countryside. Hopefully the rain isn’t too heavy and we can enjoy those views.


And Then It Rained

by Colleen Morrow in


We have had three days of perfect hiking weather. We could have done with a few degrees cooler for Kjeragbolten but Preikestolen and Trolltunga were perfect. Things have been a bit foggy in the mornings but it’s burned off fairly quickly and we’ve had blue skies with fluffy white clouds and the sun shining down on us. We couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Today, it’s raining. We woke up to the sound of rain, we packed up to the sound of rain, and we got the car loaded during a short break in the rain. If it had been like this yesterday, we couldn’t have even thought about hiking Trolltunga, it would have been far too slippery on the rocks.

We took a roundabout way to get to Bergen, stopping at Eidfjord, Ulvik, and Utne along the way. Eidfjord was lovely, a very picturesque little village where we indulged in a hot beverage and then wandered along the water for a little bit (the rain was quite light.) From there, we went to Ulvik, another little town, where I was able to pick up some apple cider from the famous Norwegian orchards. Then, it was on to Utne, which wasn’t much of a town but was on a really lovely lake that we crossed in the ferry, though we stayed in the car because of the rain.

Until we got to Utne, the roads were much wider than what we had been driving on since not long after leaving Oslo. I think EDP enjoyed the easier driving, especially after our days of hiking. After Utne, we were back on winding, narrow road but were also driving through orchard country, which were beautiful up against the backdrops of the lakes & mountains. The rain stayed with us all day, keeping us inside the car on the ferries and from stopping to enjoy the scenery.

After a couple of hours, we were in Bergen and heaving towards Fantoft, one of the stave churches. It’s a fair distance from the main tourist area of Bergen where we’re staying so we took advantage of still having the car and drove there on our way into the city. It was raining while we were there so we didn’t stay long, just long enough to take a peak at the inside and then take a quick tour around the outside. Fantoft isn’t actually original - it had been built around 1150 but it was burned down in the early 90s (arson, sadly.) They were able to restore the altar crucifix but most of the rest of the church was lost and had to be rebuilt.

Then, it was on to Bryggen, the old historic quarter of Bergen, where we’re staying for the next few days. After getting checked in to the hotel & returning the car, we had dinner out on a patio, something you wouldn’t expect given how much it rained today but Bergen patios tend to be covered and come with blankets and heaters so we were warm & dry, even outside in the chilly evening. Bergen is known to be a rainy city, averaging something like 240 days of rain a year, so we plan to keep our umbrellas and rain jackets handy as we explore the next few days.


Trolltunga

by Colleen Morrow in


Well, we’re still alive but barely.  

We did get breakfast at 5:45 and we did get to the parking lot around 6:30. There are actually two lots - a small one at the trailhead and a large one where there used to be a funicular to take you to the trailhead. The funicular is no longer there so now, you have to walk up the switchback road to the trailhead, adding about 6km and 4 hours to the round trip. Everything I had read said the top lot fills up very quickly so I did our planning based on the lower lot. But we got the second-to-last parking spot in the trailhead lot. And oh man, am I glad we did.  

The first two km was fairly flat, easy going terrain. Then we hit stairs. Stairs that never seemed to end. But they eventually did and we got to climb a rock face. Nothing as bad as Kjeragbolten but we were happy to have the hiking poles. Things leveled off for a bit after that and we started a fairly regular pattern of climbing then descending, passing (and filling up our water bottles in) waterfalls, overlooking lakes and mountains - it was a gorgeous hike. And the trail wasn’t very busy, either. We were often the only people around, which was lovely. After just over 3 hours, we reached the tongue. And it was totally worth it. The tongue is really neat but the view over the lake was stunning. We queued up for photos before settling down for a rest and snacks, enjoying the warmth of the sun in the cool air. Surprisingly, there was not only cell coverage but a couple of wifi networks, too. But, every year, there are several rescue excursions for hikers who have gone off track so it may be they were put in to help with rescue efforts?

Then, it was time to head back. We passed a lot of people on their way up to the tongue - people who started much later than us or who had to do the first 3km up the road. Lots of them had tents - camping near the tongue and watching the sunrise is very common, plus it breaks the long hike up. Some of them had dogs, including one very tiny dog that was very excited to be out for a walk. We did the hike back in about the same about of time as it took to go up. You’d think it’d be much faster since there is more descending than climbing but it turns out we’re old and when your knees hurt, it takes forever to descend. This was when we really started feeling grateful for the trailhead lot - I’m not sure we would have been able to handle the additional walking, even if it was on asphalt, given the steep angle. We ended up stopping on the road down and picking up a young Australian fellow who had been quite far ahead of us when we started the hike back but steadily slowed his pace and seemed to really be struggling. He was looking pretty rough when we stopped and didn’t even think twice about jumping in. We also picked up a Norwegian couple - she was eager to take the ride, he thought it was fine to walk. She overruled him. It takes about 10 minutes to drive the 3km because it’s all just switchbacks so the five of us had a nice chat on the way down. All 3 seemed pretty happy about not having to do the last few km of the hike - and really, it’s just an asphalt road that leads to the trailhead, it’s not like there are spectacular views to take in, you’re just on a road.

In all, it was an amazing hike. We were really lucky with weather, it was about 11° when we started and peaked around 20°.  I don’t think I could have handled it if it was much warmer. And we were really very, very lucky to get that trailhead parking spot. Hot showers and some Thai food has made us feel mostly human again but things are pretty sore - knees, in particular. We’re incredibly grateful that we had our hiking poles and had upgrade to ankle boots, I don’t think this would have been doable without them. But, it’s pretty fun to know that we were capable of doing an hike that’s considered expert level by the Norwegians and the views & sense of accomplishment we have were worth every twinge of pain.

We head off to Bergen tomorrow, spending most of our day in the car. I think our weary bodies will appreciate the rest.  


Preikestolen

by Colleen Morrow in


A delightful stroll after the craziness of Kjeragbolten!

With a long drive at the end of the day after our hike up Kjeragbolten, we still got up and at things early, arriving at the trailhead for Preikestolen around 8. We were prepared for the worst but turns out, there’s a reason that the cruise ships do day trips to Preikestolen. It’s a very groomed trail, particularly early on, with lots of steps but none of the hand-over-hand chain climbing from yesterday. We had lovely wooden bridges to keep us out of the muddy bits and even the rock faces we needed to climb were gentle slopes in comparison to Kjeragbolten. The climb was about 4km and took us around two hours before we reached the cliff, jutting out into the fjord on three sides. The views were stunning. Kjeragbolten is tucked back a bit from the lake so we only saw a small bit of it but with Preikestolen, we could see so much more, including the ferry, which looked so small. But that makes sense, we were 600 meters up. We had made great timing, especially given that Kjeragbolten took us longer than people said it should and after a rest and some snacks, we made our way back down. Total time - 4 1/2 hours, including our break. I broke my poles out almost immediately, having learned my lesson but the ol’ knee was still cranky by the end of the hike. But it was a great hike to have after such a strenuous one the day before. I think Penny would have loved it and likely would have been able to do the whole thing without a problem. She probably could have done Kjeragbolten, too, but let’s be honest - once she hit that meadow with the sheep, she would have just waved us on ahead and told us to grab her on the way out.

Then it was into the car for the 3 hour drive to Odda, our base for two nights while we tackle the pinnacle of the hiking portion of the trip - Trolltunga! It’s going to be an early start - breakfast starts at the hotel at 5:45 and we plan to be there right when we starts so that we can be at the parking lot by 6:30. Trolltunga is expected to take between 10 and 12 hours but given how this knee is doing, 12 is looking far more likely than 10. 


Lysebotn and Kjeragbolten

by Colleen Morrow in


Well. That was something.

We headed out early on Sunday, picking up our rental car and making our way to Lysebotn, a tiny village at the base of Lysefjord. It was a long, but beautiful drive and we stopped a few times along the way to take photos of something that was particularly enthralling, usually waterfalls.  The roads are narrow and winding, particularly as you head into the mountains so our last few kilometres seemed to take forever.  Or maybe it was because we hit Norwegian rush hour, in the form of a flock of sheep on the road? But soon we found our B&B, just outside of Lysebotn, in a very old, beautiful farmhouse where we hunkered down for a home-cooked Norwegian meal and to get ourselves ready for our first of three hikes, Kjeragbolten.

We were expecting this 10km round-trip hike to take around 5-6 hours, not fully appreciating how rugged the terrain was. We quickly started scaling the first of three mountains, with the help of chains bolted into the side of the mountain, or if we were lucky, stone steps or switchbacks. Even then, there was some three-points-of-contact-at-all-times scrambling up the rock face. The trail was also an active grazing location for sheep so we had several sheep cheering us on (actually, some sounded like they were booing us) and it wasn’t long before we were up the first, albeit shortest, mountain. After getting down the other side, and up and over the second mountain, we stopped to refill our water at one of the little waterfalls before heading up the final and largest rock face. Then the terrain flattened out and we headed across the top of the mountain before tucking into a bit of a crevice and finding kjeragbolten.  Kjeragbolten is a giant boulder, shmushed between two cliff faces, at 1084m above the fjord. It’s been there a while and not going anywhere but still terrifying. After some well-deserved snacks and rest, including putting a few more layers on since it was quite chilly at the top, we headed to the boulder for photos. My Ativan was still working so I actually made it out onto the boulder but was too afraid to stand up so I just gave it a big hug. EDP was far more daring, not only standing up but pretending to be about to fall over the edge. He didn’t but I was glad the insurance was paid up, just in case. Also, it isn’t quite as death-defying as the photos make it look. While it looks like you have to climb down onto the boulder, in reality, the rock on the left has a fairly wide ledge behind it so you only need to step out onto the boulder. Or in my case, sit with your back pressed firmly against the rock and slowly inch yourself over to the boulder before maneuvering yourself onto your stomach with the intention of getting onto the boulder in a crouch before very, very slowly & carefully raising to a standing position but end up hugging the boulder instead.

Then, because we had to climb up and over three mountains to get there, we had to climb down and over three mountains to get back. I had been hoping for a secret escalator to bring us back down to the parking lot but no such luck. And those rock faces we had to scramble up now had to be scrambled down. That was. Ummm. Fun? EDP was smart enough to use his hiking poles almost the entire time but I didn’t pull mine out until far too far into the trip. And my knee is proving it. I definitely also went over on an ankle but we upgraded to ankle boots instead of just hiking shoes so it was well-protected and isn’t causing nearly as much grief as my knee. I must be getting too old for this stuff. 

In all, the round-trip hike took us about 5 1/2 hours and between heading to the boulder and back, we climbed (and subsequently descended) a total of 570m.

Once we were safely back at the car, we invested in some well-deserved hot chocolate and headed back onto the road to drive into Jørpeland, a small town near Preikestolen, our second of our three hikes - and expected to be the easiest. It can’t be harder than Kjeragbolten so here’s hoping for an easier day. 


Oslo

by Colleen Morrow in


It’s very gratifying to see where your ancestors are from, walk the streets they may have walked, eat the traditional foods they may have eaten - and maybe that’s why I’m already enjoying Norway so much, I’m seeing where my ancestors are from. 

“But aren’t you Scottish?” You say.  “And Belgian?” 

Yes. Yes, I am. But I’m also 3% Norwegian. According to my 23 and Me results, I’m 3% Norwegian. I have a three-, four-, five- or six-great-grandparent who was 100% Norwegian, born between 1740 and 1830. So yes, I’m in the home of my people. And I must look like I belong, I’ve already been asked for directions. 

Anyway. Not really the point. Point is - Oslo is lovely. 

EDP and I met at the Oslo airport on Thursday. We both flew through Frankfurt but both of us had tight connections. Mine was two hours, landed on time and everything but with security and customs, I still only got to my gate a few minutes before boarding. EDP had to run to catch his connection.  But, we both made it to Oslo and after a quick train trip into the city centre, we got checked in to the hotel, grabbed a couple of showers to wash the planes off us and headed out to take a look around.   

We quickly found the main pedestrian street and wandered up it, eventually reaching the royal palace, where we got some great views of the city and checked out the gardens. The palace isn’t open to the public, as it’s still the official residence of the Norwegian monarch but we were able to wander the grounds. There were a couple of ponds, each with a little island on them that had a couple of fairy houses (we think) and one of them had a handful of bee hives. It was nice to see people sprawled out on the lawns, enjoying the late afternoon sun, as we were certainly pleased with how warm it still was. Then, we headed back towards our hotel, stopping for some dinner, for early bedtimes. 

Friday was a lazy start. Once we were up and fed, we grabbed our books and headed off towards where we were meeting our guide for our food tour, enjoying some hot chocolate while we waited & read.  Food tours have become our absolutely favourite way to introduce ourselves to a city. You get a great walking tour, lots of restaurant recommendations, and some incredibly tasty foods to try. This tour started us off with some microbrewery beer, which I quite enjoyed, and a selection of cheeses and meats, including the traditional Norwegian brown cheese. Then it was on to a chocolate tasting, a sampler board of traditional Norwegian meats (including whale, reindeer hearts, and a variety of smoked fish, among other things...) before ending with a few more beers. Honestly, it’s not our favourite food tour that we’ve done - this was only a few stops with larger tastings at each but we much prefer lots of smaller tastings, to see more places and try more things. But it was still a great way to see the city.  There were three other people on the tour with us and they were from Oslo, so it felt like we had four personal guides for the city, not just one. 

Once we were done the food tour, we headed off to the Munch Museum. I’m not overly familiar with Munch, beyond the Scream, so it was nice to see some more by him. I really liked his Starry Night, which was similar to Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night but I can’t find anything about them being of the same place or that one was influenced by the other. It has been one of my favourite lesser known works that I’ve seen, by far. Then, it was back to the hotel, with a stop at the wine shop, for a bit of time with our feet up and letting the food tour fully digest before popping back out for a few minutes to get waffles - blueberry for EDP and raspberry & Nutella for me. They were DELICIOUS. They were a thin, soft waffle that you fold over once your fillings are on it and frankly, I could eat nothing but those for the rest of the trip. In fact, I suggested them for both lunch and dinner today, but that idea was shot down. 

Today was an earlier start, catching the first ferry over to Bygdøy for a morning of heritage museums. We started at the Viking Ship Museum, where we saw three Viking ships, all of which had been used as grave ships, each in a different state of preservation. Some of the artifacts that had been on the ships were also on display but all of the ships had been subject to grave robbers. Then, it was over to the Folkemuseum, an open-air museum showcasing Norwegian life from the 1500s to almost present day. We saw one of the stave churches while we were there, which are wooden churches of a certain type of construction. They are so stunning, it was lovely to see one in person. Finally, we ended our morning at the Kon-Tiki museum and whoa, that guy was...  well, as EDP put it to me “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to build a boat, I’m gong to sail it to Polynesia. And I’m going to take five people and I’ve never learned how to sail. Or build a boat.” Which is pretty much what this guy did. He was trying to prove you could cross from South America to Polynesia in pre-Columbian time. Crazy! Google it if you’ve never heard of Kon-Tiki before. 

The afternoon was spent at the National Gallery, where we saw the Scream, along with some other lovely works of art.  It was a nice few hours wandering through the gallery and quite a rich collection, given that most of the more commonly known artists on display aren’t Norwegian. From there, we got some iced chocolates, stopped at some sort of cultural festival to grab some lunch and then it was over to Akershus Fortress. Unfortunately, the castle is closed but we were still able to wander the grounds, seeing all of the various medieval buildings that were part of the fortress. There was also some kind of weird children’s festival going on, so we also got go hear hundreds of children trying their hands at musical instruments, various sports, and building stuff. It was a lot of children. And there was cotton candy. It was........ something else. 

Tonight’s dinner was not waffles. But it was delicious. We went a bit outside the city centre, taking the tram to an Italian restaurant that was quite lovely. And now, we’re settled back in for one last sleep in Oslo before picking up the car tomorrow and shifting from city gear to nature gear for our three big hikes! Tomorrow will be a long day in the car, driving into the fjords so I’d better head off to bed.  Well, better finish the rest of this glass of wine, actually...


Norway? No Way!

by Colleen Morrow in


Oh, how I amuse myself with my word play...

But we are going to Norway. In just a few short weeks. Our main reason for going is to hike Trolltunga, a challenging hike that will see us climb over 1,000m and travel 23km round-trip, culminating at the troll's tongue, a rock that juts out over a lake for the most stunning of views. But that's not all that we're doing. This trip is going to be a nice mix of time in Norway's beautiful cities of Oslo & Bergen along with a couple of days of hiking up in the mountains & fjords. As always, I've packed our itinerary to the brim:

  • EDP and I will meet in Norway, with me flying in from Toronto and him flying in from San Francisco. I haven't flown this far on my own in a long time so I'm packing even more books than usual.
  • We spend our first couple of days in Oslo, taking a food tour, visiting numerous museums (the Munch Museum, the Viking Ship Museum, the Koi-Tiki Museum, the National Gallery), and checking out the Akershus Fortress
  • Then it's time to rent a car and head out into Southwestern Fjords, driving towards Lysebotn where we'll hike 10km round-trip to Kerjagbolten - a boulder wedged between two cliffs. I suspect EDP will venture onto the rock, and I strongly suspect I'll simply photograph EDP on the rock.
  • The following day, we're heading to Preikestolen (or Pulpit Rock) for a relatively short 6km round-trip hike that will lead us to a rock formation with cliffs on three sides, overlooking the fjord. It's also where they just screened the new Mission Impossible movie because Tom Cruise scales the cliffs in the movie.
  • Then, we hike Trolltunga - the aforementioned 23km round-trip hike that is one of more challenging hikes in Norway and perhaps the hardest one EDP and I have done. We'll be ascending over 800m in just over a km and nearly 1200m total in the first 4km. We're opting not to use a guide, which may be a dumb decision, but we want to be able to set our own pace and not feel like we're held back or pushed too hard to stay with a group. 
  • Then we're back to the city life. We'll head up to Bergen, stopping just outside to see Gamlehaugen (one of the King's residences) and Fantoft Stave Church before having a couple of days in the city to take a walking tour, see the Bryggens and Hanseatic museums, explore the Bergenhus fortress and head up the funicular to Mt Floyen.
  • Then, we're taking a variety of trains and ferries back to Oslo, heading through the mountains and fjords, passing orchards & glaciers and generally just stunning us with the beauty of the scenery.
  • Finally, it's time for one last day in Oslo to tour the Opera House and check out the sculpture park before EDP and I part ways.

We've been busy getting new gear for Trolltunga - the weather is unpredictable and we're told to expect snow and rain so it was time to upgrade our hiking shoes for hiking boots, get some waterproof pants, replace the old tattered pink backpack that's been with me since Thailand with something lighter & waterproof, and invest in some hiking poles. We're also taste-testing numerous proteins bars to keep our energy up while hiking and I've been trying to get to the gym three times a week to prepare for the initial ascent with some quality time on a Stairmaster (I made it 800m in about 1.5 hours yesterday and have lived to tell the tale so I'm getting there...)

The itinerary is all planned out, almost everything is booked and the suitcase is open for me with my passport and Ativan already inside. Bring on the travel adventure!


East of Eden. I mean Nice. East of Nice.

by Colleen Morrow in


With our exploring west of Nice done, it was time to tackle east of Nice with day trips to Èze and Monaco.

Èze was up first. We took the train into Èze-sur-Mer, which is along the coast, but the village we wanted to see was way up at the top of one of the hills. I think they are hills, I don't think they are big enough to be considered mountains. Maybe foothills? Anyway. Neitzsche spent some time in Èze and travelled a goat path between the two parts of the village, which has now been named the Neitzsche Path and is open for hiking. It started as a gently sloping asphalt path before quickly turning into concrete steps, which made way for crumbling concrete steps by the halfway point, which then transitioned into rocks. The total elevation was about 400m and we finished in about 50 minutes. We stopped fairly frequently as the views were really beautiful, both of the sea and of the ravine between the foothills. Once we reached the village, we continued climbing up to the Jardin Exotique where we were rewarded with even more gorgeous views and lots of cacti. Èze was founded by the Romans so it had even more of an Italian feel than the rest of the places we visited.  We explored the old village's streets, which were really narrow alleyways, that all twisted and turned back onto each other so it was hard to tell what you had seen and what you hadn't. At one point, I think the alley we were in was a hotel with the rooms opening directly onto the alley. EDP picked up a small painting from a French artist of the steeple of the church in the village. The colours are really vibrant and it's lovely to have something from a place we visited. 

We were back in Nice earlier than expected so we threw on our swimsuits for a few more hours on the beach with our books. Neither of us ventured into the water this time around but one of us did take the time for some tarte tatin and a wee nap.  Yeah, it was me.  Once the wind picked up and the sun started to hide away, we packed up and headed back to the hotel before heading to a lovely little Italian restaurant that had a really lovely tarte au citron.

Our last day, which was also Thanksgiving, was spent in Monaco.  We got an early start on the day since we had a lot to pack in. We started at the Jardin Exotique, which was much larger than Èze's and had amazing views out over Le Rocher and the ports.  Once we had our fill of cacti and lovely vistas, we headed onto Le Rocher to take in the old city.  First up was the Palais Princier de Monaco, where the royal family still resides, so the portion open to the public was limited but included the throne room where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III got married and the rooms where large state gatherings are held. From there, we headed over to Cathédrale Notre-Dame-Immaculée, which was beautiful in a way that we weren't used to seeing cathedrals. It had the same vaulted ceilings and archways we've seen many times but wasn't covered in marble, the stone was simply polished. It was less opulent but had a really striking effect that I didn't expect. We also made it to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, where I really enjoyed the aquarium, particularly the turtles. The building is absolutely stunning, both inside & out plus the views from the roof were pretty incredible. We got to see lots of whale skeletons, along with old-timey diving equipment and lots of stuffed birds.  After some lunch, we picked up a path that wound through Jardins St-Martin to head down to the main port to check out the ridiculously huge yachts. More than one had a helicopter pad and one even had a helicopter on its helicopter pad. I don't even have a helicopter, let along a yacht to land it on. We walked along the water over to the Japanese gardens where I unintentionally fooled a large number of koi into thinking I was going to feed them (I only wanted their photograph) before heading to what was EDP's highlight for the day - the Monte Carlo casino. The casino's atrium is typically open to the public but they were setting up for some sort of event so there wasn't a lot to see when you went in but the casino itself, which we did take in, was really beautiful. It was early in the day - around 3 - so there weren't very many people inside and we headed into the main gaming room where we started with a Thanksgiving round of champagne/kir royals. One of us spilled his drink when he was coming close to finishing it and had it replaced by the bartender. The other one of us then regretted not being a Spilly McSpillyPants and having no free refill.  Then it was time for a bit of light gambling.  The gaming room only had roulette and blackjack, the latter of which required a minimum €25 bet. Buy in? Ante? I'm not really familiar with the lingo.  EDP wanted to play something but that was a little rich for his blood so we settled at a roulette table where he quickly hit on one of his numbers, multiplying the stack of chips in front of him. He traded some in for another colour so that I could play a bit, too, which I did by alternating the minimum between red and black. This winning strategy soon had me up €40 but by the time EDP had finished playing, I was only up €20. Since he was the source of my capital, I returned all my winnings to him.  Finally, it was time to head back to Nice for one last dinner (which was the largest Greek salad I've ever had in my life...) and getting a good night's sleep before our flights home.  

The trip home was uneventful, we were able to get seats together for both our flights. When we got to the airport and through security, I had a small panic attack because there were TONNES of cancelled flights.  Ours was not but there were a lot of flights within Europe that were cancelled. A quick check on Twitter revealed nothing terrible had happened to ground flights so we grabbed some breakfast before heading to our gate where we figured out there was a national strike against French labour reforms. Which included one of the air traffic controller unions. We're not sure if we were prioritized to get out since we were an international flight or if it was just dumb luck that we weren't cancelled but we weren't complaining.  Anyway, now we're home so it's time to start the process of going through through the photos.  I think I only took about 750, let's see how long it takes me to get through them all :)

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