So after a farewell evening in Umeå I was off to Norway. I was unsure exactly how I would feel once I finally left Umeå (turns out it felt very much like a hangover). I’m excited to be traveling and I do miss family and friends but I will miss a lot about Umeå. Thankfully I will be seeing many of the friends I made there in the upcoming month while I travel. Norway felt very different from Sweden yet very similar. It’s like if Norway and Sweden were siblings, Norway was the spoilt one. I landed in Oslo which reminded me of Vancouver, probably just because of the mountains and ocean. But later that evening when I went to meet Victoria at the central station I was approached by several hookers, then it really reminded me of Vancouver. The next day we wandered about and explored the city a little. The opera house and statue park, Vigeland, being the highlights. The reason we were doing this trip at all was because one of my professors (who was leading the field school in Japan when Victoria and I met), “Hugh” said we would be fools not to do it. We lucked out with the weather and the statue park was a great visit. The statues were meant to depict the struggle, pains, and emotions of human existence. One statue was of a man juggling and kicking children, I assume to depict parenthood. The monolith or phallic symbol (penis) at the centre was very impressive.
The next day was the actual trip Hugh had told us to take. The “Norway in A Nutshell” itinerary. This includes a train from Oslo to Myrdal, where you then hop onto the Flåm railway which takes you through the Flåm valley where you then hop onto a ferry and go through the Nærøyfjord to Gundvangen to catch a bus to Voss to then catch another train to Bergen. It was great, but a long day of travel. We were initially going to book it all ourselves but after pricing it out, the booking company Fjord Tours had almost the same price. I think the cheapest way is to not book anything in advance and just go day of, only catch is the ticket office opens after the opportune hours to depart. The train ride from Oslo to Myrdal was amazing. We reached an altitude of 1222 metres above sea level and everything was covered in snow. It was not what I was expecting from the train ride at all. Surprisingly there were a lot of houses in what felt like the middle-of-nowhere in this snowy mountain landscape. If they were more than ski cottages, I have no idea what people would do up there for work.
At Myrdal we hoped on the Flåm line which was a really scenic train ride and it made several stops as it operates almost entirely for tourists. On the train we met two embarrassingly obnoxious Canadians. They were from northern Ontario (no comment) and were an older couple. In my head I’ve nicknamed him George because he looked like George R. R. Martin. They were going photo crazy and when George saw the Canadian patch on my backpack, he said, “So you’re American, eh?” “No, I’m Canadian.” I said. He kept at it, “You guys always put our flags on your backpacks so people don’t think you’re American.” “Nope. Canadian. I’m from Edmonton.” I said as I was getting fed up. “Okay, maybe you’re not fake.” Decetive George concluded. To set the record straight about Canadians and their patches: We wear patches on our bags because most people when traveling Europe automatically assume we’re American, having the patch avoids having to correct them (imagine just assuming an Irishman is English, its offensive to certain people). However, in this circumstance I was embarrassed to be associated with these goofs. The second reason I wear a patch is because I want people to know I am not a local. In Europe, people are always in the centres begging, raising money for Amnesty, Red Cross, etc. and I hope that they will leave me alone and understand I don’t have any spare money to donate to amnesty or anything else (so far not working). I’m also a cheap student. If there was some kind of international “student flag” I’d have that on my bag as well. Getting back to the Flåm line: this is a part of the trip I would have adjusted (not because of George and his photo assistant wife). Rather then take the train through the Flåm valley, I would have liked to have walked along the trails that lead all the way down the valley and go through the tiny villages within. I also would have liked to stay a night in Flåm as it was a really beautiful location, and the fact that they had a great pub and their own brewery (Ægir Bryggeri) helps. Unfortunately we only had a few moments in Flåm so I quickly bought a Sumbel Porter to have later that night in Bergen (which was delicious). The ferry ride was gorgeous but we were packed onto this ferry like sardines and the other tourists were a bit ridiculous. They all began losing their minds and taking pictures when a lone seagull began to fly along the boat.
Later someone got the bright idea to feed the seagulls and then we were swarmed by the flying rats. We moved ourselves down to where the cars would be had anyone driven one, and even though the engine was louder, it was much quieter away from the tour group. Once we moved below deck I thoroughly began to enjoy the ferry ride. It was waterfall after waterfall, the joke after awhile was, “Another waterfall? Bored!”
After about 2 hours in the fjord we hopped on a bus and spent about 40 minutes detouring on some roads stacked on each other like a jenga set ready to fall, to get a view of some waterfalls (“Another waterfall?”) and then we were off again on the main road to Voss. Voss was a cute little town. It reminded me of something like a tiny Kelowna or Revelstoke in British Columbia. Luckily we had time to run to a nearby Kebab and Pizzeria we spotted on the way in. We were then on another train, this time with a stag party headed to Bergen for a night out. There was a constant stream of them going to and from the washrooms and they may have had just one or two drinks before getting on the train, just maybe. This section of the train ride was beautiful as well but couldn’t live up to the first train. Once in Bergen we took a bus to our hostel and we quickly went to bed. The next day we wandered around Bergen, which was probably my favourite of the cities we visited (it was also Vic’s). It is at this point I should mention the price of food. A fast food burger will cost you “Ridiculous!!” and a coffee will cost you “Absurd!!” But truly, the price of food is unfathomable. We lived off of fast food and convenient store food for the most part and it still cost us ridiculous amounts. We went to Vapiano twice to “treat ourselves.” Vapino is usually a cheap dinner, however, in Norway is cost us around 40 Euro for a pasta and a beer. Another writer said after visiting the Munch Museum in Oslo, “The Scream” must be depicting a tourist seeing their bank account after a visit to Norway. Probably, but we didn’t visit the Munch Museum because of the cost of food. I bring this up now because in Bergen was the only time we had an okay priced meal and it was actually good. It was a typical “Norwegian Fast Food” fish burger. I dreaded going in at first because I figured like the rest of Scandinavia, they’d throw some kind of mayo or version of mayo that I hated on the burger. Instead it was salsa and fresh veggies and a whole wheat bun. Dare I say it was the best burger I have ever had? (It was more like a sandwich really). We wandered to the park which had xylophones to play and then made our way back to the Unesco World Heritage site, Bryggen. What better thing to do then have a beer at a Unesco World Heritage site, right? Victoria and I were pretty tired from the day of travel so we plopped ourselves down in Una. They had a large selection of beer, especially Norwegian beer which I wanted to try while in the country. On top of that they had some very knowledgeable staff. I got chatting with the bar manager, who was from Australia (mostly about beer). I always appreciate a bar that will let you sample beers to find the one you’re looking for. We hungout there for a couple hours and relaxed before heading to the student area to try and find a cheap dinner. We found a cheap dinner, by Norway standards, at a Wok place. Another nuisance in Norway is the Eat-In/Take-Away prices. If you want to eat in the restaurant/fast-food joint then you’re going to pay more on top of the already expensive dish. It’s a bit ridiculous. After feeling guilty for spending so much money on the basic necessity of food, we headed back to the hostel. The next day we had a 5 hour bus ride to Stavanger.
Another early morning saw us dragging our sorry butts to another station to catch a bus near to the last minute. The bus ride was uneventful for the most part until we got just north of Stavanger. It was bridge after bridge and tunnel after tunnel under the sea, connecting several little islands. The landscape changed so drastically from the few hours before and suddenly there was hardly any trees. We had to take another ferry to get to Stavanger (“Ferry lyfe” someone named Victoria may have said). We spent a few hours in Stavanger wandering about. It still had a very small, fishing village feel but was clearly an established city. The centrum was especially neat to walk around with every house(shop) painted white. We then got on a ferry once again to get to Tau. On the ferry we met a very friendly-but-too-friendly-almost-creepy-actually-very-creepy guy. We were ready to nod off when he asked if we were headed to Preikestolen. We told him we were going the next day but he insisted he could give us a ride. Perhaps he was a nice guy and meant well but without conversing with each other, both mine and Victoria’s red alerts were going off. Something about him was just off. We needed to buy our return tickets for the next day on the bus anyways, which I told him. But he understood it as we already had tickets: even better. So after avoided a potentially creepy evening, or offending a friendly guy, we waited for the bus and were the only passengers out to the Preikestolen hostel. It was in a gorgeous location overlooking a lake. This is another point in the trip I would have loved to change and stayed and extra day or two (however, every extra day in Norway is not only accommodation but also a lot of money on food). We had the hostel as our only option for dinner, so of course it was expensive, but not as bad as it could have been since there were no other alternatives in the area.
The next morning we did the Preikestolen hike which was easily the highlight of the trip. The landscape on the way up was incredibly diverse considering it was such a short hike and the view at the top was an awe inspiring moment. The only downfall of the destinations popularity was the constant stream of tourists on the path and groups at the top. Some of them made for good entrainment though. One guy was wearing a leather jacket and dress shoes. I’m sure he must have hated the hike to the top. We hiked around to try and get a good angle of the rock itself and met another Canadian couple, this time they were friendly, funny, all the typical things that are assumed about Canadians. After deciding to take the scenic route down (as in it was not a route at all, we just went in the general right direction until we found the path again) we hopped on the bus and ferry combo once more and got back to Stavanager again. The next day we took an 8 hour train ride back to Oslo. About 5 hours in, the landscape became really beautiful lake country and would have been another nice stop for a day or two. The next day in Oslo we checked out the old fort up until there was a fee to go further, at that point we had lunch and laid in the park until we had to catch our flight to Amsterdam. Luckily we didn’t land on the dreaded Polderbaan runway which I did the previous two times (its a 15 minute drive-in-the-plane from the airport). However, another problem that seems reoccurring at Schiphol airport is that you wait forever for you luggage, which we did. Then on the way to The Hague the train broke down… We were both ready to go back to Norway haha. Now I’m here for a few days before heading off to Ireland to meet up with my mate Seamus.