Saturday, July 26, 2014

No way, I was in Norwayyy!!


I'll start off by apologizing for the cheesy title, but it was running through my head for the past week so I had to post it. I spent the second week of my vacation with my fellow UCSB-Chalmers intern, Alex, in Norway. I'll break up this blog by each day I was in Norway, so feel free to read it in sections. 

Warning: This blog is long (so I can remember things when I look back at this blog) and has A LOT of pictures. I'll bold things that you should really pay attention to!

Day 1: Oslo – the capital of Norway!
Travel tip: The bus from Gothenburg to Oslo is SUPER cheap (about $15 one-way for a 3.5 hour ride) 

Things I knew walking into Oslo: There is a castle in Oslo and food in Norway is VERY expensive. Both facts are true. 

Since food is super expensive in Norway and I’m on a college-student budget, here was my lunch. 

Yes, I found a greasy McDonald's half way across the globe. Interestingly I only saw women working at the particular restaurant we stopped at. 

The next couple images are of downtown Oslo. It was a quaint and clean town with some new buildings mixed in with the older historical landmarks. 

There were a surprising amount of TGIF restaurants. You know you have left the country when a place advertises an “American” Bar. Also the Gucci store ironically had a broken glass door; I guess theft is a global problem.

The next two pictures are at the Royal Palace. (When I heard there was a royal palace, I immediately thought back to Princess Dairies with Anne Hathaway) 

Unfortunately we got there just after the last English tour, so we couldn’t see the inside of the palace. Outside the palace was a very nice park. The guards posted outside the palace reminded me of the Queen's Guard in England. And yeah, I’ve grown to be taller than buildings now ;)

Now for the fun part – the fortress/castle! 
I walked into the Akershus Fortress expecting something a bit bigger, but it was still impressive to see the fortress that survived multiple world wars and sieges. The fortress was built in 1290, and was used as a prison at one point in time. I will admit that I forgot that Norway was occupied during WW2, so reading about the historical significance of the fortress and the capital being infiltrated with German troops was very humbling. We were very fortunate that America was not occupied during either of the world wars.

I’ve made it a personal goal to take a picture with each cannon I see – I think when I collect enough pictures, I might be allowed to operate one.

So as we walked around the fortress, just looking out into the ocean, it started sprinkling, and then pouring. The stone paths we walked on became slippery and we joked that we got the “real” fortress experience since prisoners were forced to work in the fortress rain or shine. 

Overall, Oslo is a very neat city. It was cool to see the mixture of both old and new in one place.

Cruisin' Day 1
So the reason I was in Norway – a Hurtigruten cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen. 
Image borrowed from this blog.
Flying into Kirkenes from Oslo, we arrived at the smallest airport I’ve ever been too.

The scenery of the town was gorgeous, but we were worried we would miss our cruise ship. Once we got on board a half hour before it departed, we started exploring. The ship had a small workout room (I used it once, wooo!), a sauna and two jacuzzies. It also had very slow wifi on one floor of the ship; I was expecting no wifi, so little access to the internet was a nice surprise. (Picture of the ship is a few paragraphs down)

Our first stop was Vardø – a small town close to the most eastern part of Norway. The fortress in this town is the reason this area is still a part of Norwegian territory. If you look on a map, you’ll realize that eastern Norway is more east than some parts of “Eastern” Europe like Istanbul. Also, notice that we traveled above the Arctic Circle for the first few days of the cruise.

Here are some pictures of the fortress in Vardø

Of course it includes a picture of me with a cannon (I believe this is the third!)

It is interesting to note that I’ve seen so many creepy dumbies in Norwegian museums. They all look eerily real.

Below is a picture of my cruise ship – The MS Richard With. 

It is important to note that Hurtigruten primarily serves as a ferry between Norwegian ports, the cruise is a secondary feature. This means that it isn’t like your typical cruise where they provide entertainment and game nights – the main thing you can do on board is enjoy the scenery (luckily, Norway is beautiful!), read, or eat. 

We stopped in a small fishing village called Båtsfjord for about 15 minutes.

We had just enough time to run outside, smell the fact that it truly was a fishing village, and hop back on board.

Ah, the important stuff – FOOD. On the cruise, if you pay for full board, you get a breakfast and lunch buffet and a 3 course dinner. The cruise provides free drinks at breakfast, and free coffee or tea at lunch. At lunch and dinner, they charge you for bottled water and will not bring you tap water. Luckily we met a nice Danish couple at lunch who gave us two water bottles we refilled for lunches and dinner (being on a college student budge, I assumed water would be free). 

Here is the first dinner we had on board! 

King Crab and Salmon Roe with blini and sour cream.

Vodka-marinated Reindeer from Finnmark with pelmeni and celery puree.

Pavlova served with forest berries.
I was a bit hesitant to try the reindeer (I've heard it's a bit gamey which is hard for someone who's gone back to eating meat after being a vegetarian for 6 years), but it was delicious! It was hands-down, my favorite meal of the cruise. It was cooked perfectly and did not taste gamey at all. The dessert was good as well and it reminded me of macarons since it was meringue-based.

Cruisin' Day 2
The next morning our first stop was Hammerfest which calls itself “the northernmost town in the world”. The views from this town were breathtaking and pictures simply do not do it justice.

I heard from someone else that apparently these green huts are a small restaurant that serves local game and opens at very odd hours. 
The church in the town was right by the ocean and was very pretty. Someone was playing the organ while we were there and the stainglass windows in the church were beautiful.

After we got back on board, we ate lunch. Why talk about lunch? Because I had the MOST DELICIOUS chocolate cake of my life. It was moist yet crumbly, the frosting was creamy but not overpowering; but sadly I didn’t take a picture of it and they only served it once. I’m actually considering emailing the cruise company for the recipe. 

After lunch, I stood out on the front deck in the wind for about an hour and a half. Why? Because at first I was enjoying the scenery, and then I waited for the ship to make a really sharp turn, but it instead docked into a small town called Øksfjord. My legs were a bit sore from standing and I might have gotten windburn, but the landscape was gorgeous. I know that any picture I post simply will not do justice to its true beauty. 

This is the small town called Øksfjord. I didn't step into town since we only docked for about 15 minutes. It's hard to imagine living in such a quiet, isolated place when I've been living in cities my entire life.

I also took pictures of this small town called Skjervøy

Here was our dinner the second night on the cruise. 
Reindeer Pate served with aquavitmarinated lingonberries.

Poached Salmon from Skjervøy served with rhubarb and compote and <<Gulløye>> potatoes from Troms.

<<Marthe Knipe>> - a classic Norwegian farm dessert served with red sauce.

All of the food was good and I liked the dessert quite a bit. It had a pudding-like texture and had the right amount of sweetness. 

At midnight we landed in Tromsø, the largest city in Northern Norway. 

Here is the Midnight Sun covered by clouds - simply stunning. It felt like we were walking in a ghost town since it was light out but there were no people out at midnight on a Tuesday night.

Again, the landscape around the town was simply breathtaking. It seems unreal to me that someone can have this landscape as their backyard.

The city even has a University that most people in the North of Norway attend. They were even hosting a Chess Tournament and had this huge chess set in one of the parks. 

Here is the “midnight” sun at 1 am and then 2 am. (It was cloudy at midnight so we couldn’t see the sun). Since we were above the Arctic Circle, it was never dark for the first few days of the cruise. It's hard to imagine that the days can be completely dark here during the winter when it is so bright during the summer.

Cruisin' Day 3
We started off the third day of the cruise sailing passed Risoyrenna, a dredged channel, and docking at Risøyhamn. I didn’t stop in this village, but I took pictures from the ship. 

After lunch (which sadly did not have the chocolate cake), we stopped in Stokmarknes which had the Hurtigruten Museum. 

At the museum, we got to walk through the MS Finnmarken, which is an old Hurtigruten ship. It was really cool to compare our ship with the older one. I mean, I even got to steer the ship for a bit ;)

We then sailed into the strait of Raftsundet which, like the guidebook says, was the most beautiful part of the voyage. Again, pictures do not do the landscape justice. 

As we sailed along the strait, we entered the Trollfjorden. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by water so blue, mountains so tall, and so much natural beauty. 

After seeing an overwhelming amount of natural beauty, here was our dinner. 
Chicken Soup served with root vegetables.
Boknafisk and Fresh Cod from Lofoten served with almond potatoes, baked vegetables, and browned butter.
<<Kvæfjordkake>> with meringue, vanilla custard, and almonds.
This dessert was my favorite dinner dessert hands down. The cake tasted like an almond cake and was delicious! The chicken soup was nice and creamy and both types of cod were cooked well.

After dinner, we stopped in Svolvær, which is a town on the Lofoten Islands. Alex (my fellow intern from UCSB to Chalmers and my travel buddy) and I signed up for a hike through the Island.

A bus took us to an old mountain pass that villagers used to take across this mountain from one town to another to get supplies. It's crazy to think that not every town had a "grocery" store.

 This was a crater formed when they tried to make a tunnel through his mountain for cars. It caused this tunnel to be the most expensive tunnel made in Norway, at the time it was made.
 Our tour guide was a German Biology PhD graduate who had fallen in love with the islands – I can definitely understand why. The picture above and the picture to the right are two different sides of the mountain.

 The Lofoten islands are home to many cod fisheries - here someone is drying cod fish outside their house.


It started raining on us in the middle of the hike, but that only added to excitement of being in such an amazing place. There were mountains and beaches at every angle. The clouds rolled over the mountains making them look even more majestic. Looking at this beach with nearly white sand and light blue waters, it was hard to not jump it. The only thing stopping people from swimming is that the water was VERY cold, we were still above the Arctic circle.

We got back on the bus and drove for about 40 minutes to Stamsund. Our tour guide was an amazing quirky old lady who was trying to sell us houses on the island. (Yes I took a creeper picture of my tour guide)
Oh, here was my "quick lunch". It tasted like a kit-kat bar and was perfect after the hike. Looking at these photos, I think I should quite engineering and go into advertising. Luckily for the marketing world, I love science too much to give up now.

One of the bridges we crossed was surrounded by clouds and it felt like we were flying (shout out to the Magic School Bus).
Here is a picture of the oldest fishing cabin on the island (or at least that is what I think it is).
 If I ever come back to Norway, I NEED to come back to these islands.

 Cruisin' Day 4
On the fourth day of the cruise, we passed the Arctic Circle. There was a ceremony on board where they gave use a spoonful of cod-liver oil. If you could tell by my face – it tasted a bit fishy. It wasn’t too bad though and there was an orange juice chaser. The oil is good for you and at first just tastes oily, the fishy taste hits as it goes down your throat.

The globe here marks the Arctic Circle line.

 We got to keep the spoons that were shaped like a fish and said “I did the Arctic”.

Later in the day we stopped at Sandnessjøen which was a pretty typical Norwegian coastal town. 

After lunch we got the see “The Seven Sisters” mountain range. There were clouds covering some of the peaks, but it was still a very cool sight regardless. There is a pretty cool legend behind it that you can read about here

Before dinner we stopped in Brønnøysund which seemed to have some sort of festival going on. 

The ship later sailed past Torghatten, a mountain that has a natural hole in the middle. It reminded me of the all seeing eye in Lord of the Rings, but less creepy. The hole in the mountain connects to the legend about the Seven Sisters Mountains.

During dinner we were docked at Rørvik which also seemed like a typical coastal town.
Prawn Soup with sour cream and croutons.
Dill-baked Chicken leg with leek, potatoes and grainy mustard.
Caramel Pudding with almond brittle and caramel sauce.
Since this was the farewell dinner, the crew sang us a really cute song about our time on board!
Everything at dinner was delicious as usual. The soup was nice and creamy and the dessert was again perfectly sweet.

Cruisin´ Day 5

Early in the morning on Day 5, we stopped in Trondheim. We ran into town, came back to the cruise ship to get our wallets, and then got lost on our way to the Gothic Church. We eventually found our way there, but we stopped by a couple cool places first.

 Here is the islet Munkholmen, it is now a restaurant but it has served as a monastery, fortress, and even a prison.
 This is a statue of Leiv Eiriksson who is regarded to be the first European to land in North America (take that Columbus!).

 Here is the fortress in the city. It was a steep walk uphill, but the view was well worth it.

After I got my picture with a cannon (what is this, picture 4 now?), I noticed that there was a restaurant in the fort.

Here is another restaurant in the city. Imagine having to be a waiter and walk with dishes on tht bridge!


Those two pictures are of the Nidaros Cathedral. We weren't allowed to take any pictures inside, but it was a very cool Gothic-style Cathedral. 
Norwegian strawberries are delicious since it takes longer for them to get ripe, they have a longer time to get sweet.
 The last dinner on board!
Inderoy meat soup with skjenning.
Aquavit Marinated Pork with spiced Norwegian cole-slaw and potatoes.
Traditional Barely Cream Dessert served with berry cream sauce.
The last dinner on the boat was my least favorite especially since the dessert was fairly bland. After dinner, we stopped in Kristiansund which is the Norwegian home of jazz.

The sunset was gorgeous and very windy. I stayed up wayyyy to late talked to some British ladies about life and playing picture-word games.

These ladies were adorable and claimed I adopted them since I always seemed to run into them on board. They gave great life advice and had a great British sense of humour (yes, I spelled it with an extra 'u' just for them).  

Cruisin' Day 6

On the last day of the cruise, we sailed into Bergen

Alex, Yvonne, and me docking into Bergen.
We first, as per routine now, got lost trying to find our friend Yvonne’s hotel.Yvonne was our fellow Californian on board and an amazing travel buddy. Once we made our way to our hostel, I left to explore the fish market.

 I bought this open shrimp sandwich snack to prepare for my hike.

 We used this cool thing called the Fløibanen to get up 320 meters above sea level.

The view of the city was amazing, but we decided to take a hike and get up higher.

On our way to the trail, I took a picture of this troll and walked past this quiet pond. Remember, don't scare the baby dinosaurs!

The view from the top was breathtaking, I felt like I was on top of the world!

On our way down, through a mushy trail that wasn’t really a trail, we saw sheep near the pond. I have no idea why they were there or even how they got there, but they had bells on them so they must have belonged to someone.
After we hiked downhill (quite the journey), I decided to buy fish and chips. It was nice to get a variety of fish and the potatoes were salted to perfection. 

Trainin' Back to Gothenburg 

Early the next morning, we started our journey on a long train ride from Bergen to Oslo and then connecting to train that took us to Gothenburg. The train ride had the most amazing views I've ever seen. I really did not do the scenery justice with these photos, but I got to see multiple glaciers and waterfalls up close. If I ever visit Norway again, I want to go hiking in one of these little towns. 

Alright, that was by far my longest blog post. Congratulations on making it to the end! Overall it took me 8 hours to talk about the 8 days I was on Norway. I apologize for any spelling or grammar errors, but I hope you enjoyed the post!

Norway will always have a special place in my heart - it's natural beauty is overwhelming. I hope to one day go back and explore some more, but for now I'm back to doing research in Sweden!

Thanks for reading!